Dissent as cybercrime: social media, security and development in Tanzania

Cross, Charlotte (2021). Dissent as cybercrime: social media, security and development in Tanzania. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 15(3) pp. 442–463.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17531055.2021.1952797


In the context of increasing interest in the relationship between digital communications and authoritarian politics, this paper considers the criminalisation of online dissent in Tanzania. Based on interviews with police officers, local government officials and mobile phone users, the paper explores contested framings and understandings of “cybercrime”. It argues that contemporary repression of online freedoms can be understood within longer histories of social and political ordering, whereby understandings and experiences of “security” and “development”, and the relationships they imply between government and citizens, are implicated in the delegitimisation of dissent. However, it also finds that social media use enables and amplifies articulation of opposition to repressive measures and may destabilise the politics of security and development that inform the policing of online spaces and politics more broadly. The paper thus contributes, firstly, to understanding the ambiguous and contingent relationships between information and communications technologies and politics in particular places. Secondly, by analysing debates about internet freedom it offers insights into broader negotiations over politics, security and development, which are in turn rendered more urgent by the disruptive impact of new modes of communication.

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