Accepted paper:

Seditious Statistics? Data, security and development in Tanzania

Author:

Charlotte Cross (The Open University )

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the policing of data production, dissemination and analysis in Tanzania and situates this within the broader securitisation of social media use and criminalisation of online political dissent.

Paper long abstract:

Developments such as increased use of social media by Members of Parliament and activists and regular public opinion surveys conducted by mobile phone gave reason for optimism that digital technologies would enable Tanzanian citizens to produce, share and use data to enhance the transparency, accountability and responsiveness of government. Since 2015, however, the government has sought greater control over what constitutes legitimate data and how data can be disseminated, as part of a broader intensification of constraints on political freedoms under President Magufuli. A Statistics Law (2015) effectively criminalises publication of interpretations of official statistics that differ from those preferred by the government and other legislation regulating online communication prohibits dissemination of 'false' information. This paper situates these developments within the broader securitisation of social media communications in Tanzania, whereby, like other forms of political dissent expressed online, data and interpretations of data that do not conform to official narratives regarding government performance and Tanzania's development are framed as 'seditious' threats to unity, peace and development. This narrative is contested, however, by civil society and the political opposition and the paper concludes by considering the way in which high profile arrests, leaked letters, court challenges, international interventions and the idea that development depends on data have made data production, dissemination and analysis in itself an important and dynamic point of contestation in Tanzanian politics.

panel Pol31
Digital technologies and the politics of data in Africa