A public notice started circulating on Twitter last week announcing that the police are putting in place an immediately effective ban on jogging in the streets – however, jogging in recreation grounds or at the beach are permitted. The public notice ends somewhat ominously: “You have been warned”. The letter is signed by police chief Francis Alieu Munu.
The government says that the law has been put in place because of the public nuisance caused by large groups of joggers on the streets, whom they say are responsible for an increase in noise, traffic obstruction, and petty crime.
The news has drawn indignation and disbelief across social media, with locals, NGOs, and associations condemning the order, saying that sport helps to keep young people out of trouble.
“This law will mostly affect young people”
I used to run every single weekend when I was there, early on Saturday mornings and on Sunday evenings too. When I first came to Freetown, I went to the beach and I saw all of the people exercising together in groups, so I decided to join one myself. I joined a running group called Unifit, which had about 30 members.
There are so many sports clubs in Freetown. Some of them are for exercising together on the beach, others for football, some for running. At the weekend people start running on the roads from 6am, usually running towards the beach, either alone or in groups, and they run through the streets.
I never saw any violence or disturbances myself. I can understand that when there are a lot of people altogether in the streets, they can do bad things [Editor’s note: residents do complain about pickpocketing in certain areas of the city]. But I always felt safe, I didn’t find these sports groups to be dangerous.
Sports clubs are so common, and most of the people exercising are youth. If this law takes effect, it will mostly affect young people. This is a country that still has a memory of war [Sierra Leone was gripped by a devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002, killing at least 50,000 people; the number of total casualties is probably far higher], and people use sport as an opportunity to forget about the war and forget about bad things.
I think this is probably because the Sierra Leone election is coming [the country’s general elections will take place in March 2018], and they don’t want people to gather together. It’s true that when you go to the beach you find people that don’t go there to jog or do exercise – there are groups of people just loitering and talking. I think with the election coming they don’t want people to cause any disturbances.