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Centre of African Studies: Research


Social Media and Security in Africa

Social Media and Security in Africa ('SMS:Africa') is a three-year project that 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 July 2015 and is funded by the ESRC-DFID fund for poverty alleviation research.

Why SMS:Africa now?

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.

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Where and how will the project work?

The 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 news

The project's ‘Social Media in Africa: Beyond the hashtag' symposium took place in Edinburgh in April 2017. An archive of all releated tweets on the symposium's hashtag are available on Storify at this Social Media in Africa Symposium page, while Nic Cheeseman's Democracy in Africa website reviews the event in an article entitled The Uses and Abuses of Social Media in Africa


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