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Centre of African Studies: Research


Social Media and Security in Africa

Social Media and Security in Africa ('SMS:Africa') aims to provide a timely understanding of the role of social media in documenting and driving (in)security in East and West Africa. It is led by Drs Thomas Molony and Maggie Dwyer at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh. The co-investigators are Dr Mutuma Ruteere (Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies, Kenya), Abu Brima (Network Movement for Justice & Development, Sierra Leone), and Dr Alexander Makulilo (Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania). The project began in 2015 and will conclude in 2020.  It is funded by the ESRC-DFID fund for poverty alleviation research.

Why SMS:Africa now?

social media africa

As more people connect to social media in Africa, their expectations for real-time information are changing, especially in terms of security. This is leading those charged with community safety to alter their ways of interacting with the public, posing new challenges concerning the rapid flow of (mis)information. At the same time, social media creates opportunities for security sector agencies to engage more directly with the public in providing information, and potentially offers new prospects for improved cooperation in enhancing community safety. The project works towards the goal of reducing the insecurity that contributes to poverty, identifying measures that can be taken to reduce the risks and impact of violence and instability that affect the poor.

Project Focus

WhatsApp daladalaThe project examines two variations of insecurity in Africa: sustained threats, and anticipated times of increased insecurity. Kenya is the case for sustained insecurity due to recent terrorist attacks and a threat of future attacks. Sierra Leone and Tanzania are cases in which there is an expected heightened risk of instability due to elections. Additionally, it examines whether lessons learnt from Kenya's exceptionally high use of social media in a security context could be applied to other countries where social media is in its infancy. 

SMS:Africa provides evidence-based research on the role social media can play in shaping relationships between technology, power and the dynamics of democracy. It maps how both those charged with community safety and non-state actors are using social media in a security context, developing an understanding of how their actions reflect on the nature of ICT and their ability to re-cast power relations, (in)security and democracy in fragile states. 

Project Outputs

Edited Volume

social Media and Politics in Africa

Dwyer, M. and Molony, T. 2019 Social Media and Politics in Africa: Democracy, Censorship and Security. London: Zed Books.

Drawing together the work of eighteen scholars based across three continents, this edited volume explores how rapidly growing social media use in Africa is shaping political engagement.

Reviewed in Journal of Communication Inquiry

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

Molony, T. 2019. ‘Social Media warfare and Kenya’s conflict with Al Shabaab in Somalia: A right to know?’ African Affairs 118(471), pp. 328-351.

This article by Thomas Molony examines Kenyan citizens’ right to know details about sensitive security-related information in the context of a new era of social media warfare.

Dwyer, M. 2019. ‘Reimagining Police Engagement? Kenya National Police Service on Social Media.' Policing & Society 30, 7 (2020), pp. 760-776.

This article by Maggie Dwyer explores the Kenya National Police Service’s use of social media for public engagement in the context of a history of strained police-public relations.

Blog Posts & Popular Media

'Analysis across Africa shows how social media is changing politics' in The Conversation, August 14, 2019 by Maggie Dwyer and Thomas Molony (also posted on Quartz Africa and Democracy in Africa)

'How Sierra Leone policies social media' in Mail & Guardian 28 May 2018 by Maggie Dwyer and project collaborator Jamie Hitchen

'The WhatsApp rumours that infused Sierra Leone’s tight election' in African Arguments, 10 April 2018 by project collaborator Jamie Hitchen

'The Uses and Abuses of Social Media in Africa' in Democracy in Africa, 7 May 2017 by project collaborator Brooks Marmon

International Conferences & Workshops

The SMS:Africa team has presented findings and organised panels at international conferences including the European Conference on African Studies 2017 (Basel, Switzerland) and the International Studies Association International Conference 2019 (Accra, Ghana). The project also organised the symposium ‘Social Media in Africa: Beyond the Hashtag’ in April 2017 (Edinburgh, UK). 

Related Project

Through support from an ESRC Impact Accelerator Grant, the SMS:Africa team developed a collaborative project titled ‘Countering Incendiary Speech Online.’ This project, which ran alongside the SMS:Africa project from 2017-2018, explored ways civil society organisations can play a role in countering incendiary speech online, particularly around election periods. It involved an exchange between civil society organisations in Sierra Leone and Kenya to share experiences around the issue. The civil society organisation Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) conducted over a dozen community engagement meetings throughout Sierra Leone to discuss experiences with social media around tense election periods.  Additionally, the project involved close collaboration with the Sierra Leonean journalist and cartoonist De Monk. He produced a series of cartoons related to social media and incdendiary speech around the general elections in Sierra Leone in 2018. A sample of his work can be seen below.  To learn more about his art, follow him on Twitter at @DeMonk75. 

De mok artde mok art


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