Accepted paper:

Policing social media in Tanzania: cybercrime and the politics of development


Charlotte Cross (The Open University )

Paper short abstract:

In Tanzania politicised policing practices are being extended into online spaces through the construction of political dissent voiced on social media as ‘cybercrime’. This forms part of a broader political debate about development, in which social media is often cast as an enemy of progress.

Paper long abstract:

This paper outlines the extension of politicised policing practices into online spaces through the construction of political dissent as 'cybercrime' in Tanzania. Growing social media use over recent years has had a significant impact on political campaigning and dissemination of news, particularly in urban areas. However, through a controversial Cybercrimes Act and related legislation the government has sought to restrict potentially damaging online debate, giving the police wide-ranging powers to investigate online communication. Those convicted of online offences to date include social media users accused of 'insulting' the President and the police over Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube, and others deemed to have shared 'false' information online. The paper locates these events within broader contestations of 'development' and its political implications in Tanzania. Firstly, since general elections in 2015, political opposition, both on- and offline, has frequently been cast as an unwelcome distraction from the pursuit of national development and has met with repressive police responses. Secondly, for national and local government officials, social media is not typically discussed in terms of its potential to enhance citizen participation and political engagement. In contrast, in keeping with a history of paternalistic and top down approaches to development, it is argued that people must be taught how to use their phones 'correctly' in order to avoid perpetrating cybercrime.

panel P028
Social media and the political sphere in Africa: reshaping democratic engagement?