Accepted paper:

The Virtual Reality of Physical Security: Linkages between Social Media and Policing in Urban Africa - a case study on Nairobi, Kenya


Susan Jackson (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

We examine how tweets with #KasaraniConcentrationCamp became a counter-narrative to the Kenyan government’s anti-terrorism detentions of ethnic Somalis in Kenya in 2014. We synthesize literature on urban Africa, security provision and social media, plus an original database of approximately 3,600 tweets.

Paper long abstract:

User generated content on social media is a growing component of the production of digital information and an increasingly important site for performing politics. Yet, most Political Science literature on social media is limited in two significant ways. First, it tends to focus on traditional state, agency or organizational actors, while at the same time overlooking every day, "under the radar", communication that might illuminate alternate or informal sites of political practice. At the same time, mainstream Political Science research on social media use bypasses the Global South. In this paper, we seek to address these deficiencies by examining how social media offers insights into informalized constructions of "security" as both a concept and a practice in urban Africa. To do so, we examine #KasaraniConcentrationCamp, a hashtag with origins in the 2014 detention of Somalis and Somali-Kenyans in Nairobi, Kenya that were justified as necessary anti-terrorism efforts against Al-Shabaab by the Kenyan government. Our adopted approach is not about measuring the impact of the hashtag, but instead is concerned with understanding how Twitter can be a site where communicative actions are both a consequence of, and interact with, informality, inequality and infrastructure(s). We conclude that social media usage can produce counter-narratives about everyday security and counter-terrorism policing practices in Nairobi and perhaps elsewhere in urban Africa. The paper's argument is based on a synthesis of literature on urban Africa, security provision and social media, as well as an original database of approximately 3,600 tweets containing the hashtag, #KasaraniConcentrationCamp. This paper was developed in collaboration with Stephen Marr.

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