UNA Tanzania, a recurring steering committee member of the annual Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Week in Tanzania for 5 years, actively engaged in the 2023 CSOs Week in Arusha from 23rd to 27th October 2023. The 2023 CSO Week was themed Tech & Society: Then, Now and Beyond and explored the transformative power of technology in society. The week created a space for robust discussions on harnessing technology for positive societal change. The aim was to foster collaboration by bringing together around 500 attendees from Mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar, and East Africa, encompassing civil society organizations, policymakers, technologists, media, and other stakeholders.

On the second day of the week, UNA Tanzania organized a thought-provoking session titled “Internet & Society: Moon-shooting in line with Youth, Digital Technologies, Elections, and Democracy in Tanzania.” The session expounded on the fact that in Tanzania, millions use the Internet for freedom of expression. Yet, the Cyber Act, meant to counter online crimes, has sometimes been used to silence dissent and critique of government actions. This session aimed to engage youth with other stakeholders from CSOs to discuss these challenges, especially with upcoming elections, offering insights into the electoral landscape, promoting collaboration, exploring digital opportunities, and charting the way forward.The session was organized in collaoration with VOICE, WILDAF ad Restless Development.

Baruani Mshale from Twaweza Tanzania presented an insightful reflection on the dynamic interplay between society, democracy, and technology. He highlighted key themes, such as citizen participation, transparency, accountability, equality, the rule of law, freedom, and human rights. He emphasized that technology serves as a reflection of societal behaviors and underscored that a non-democratic society cannot leverage technology for democratic progress. He prompted attendees to consider where to begin in harnessing technological advancements to enhance democracy and foster societal development. This session offered a thought-provoking exploration of the impact of technology on critical aspects of governance and civil society in Tanzania.

Moderated by Lucas Kifyasi; The Head of Programs at UNA Tanzania, the panelists, included Maxence Melo (Jamii Forum), Tony Alfred (The Chanzo), Anna Kulaya (WiLDAF), and Badru Juma Rajabu (Restless Development), delved into the impact of digital technologies on Tanzanian youth, upcoming elections, and democracy. Maxence Melo emphasized the personalization of online content, stating, “What you see online matches your behavior. The content you encounter aligns with the calls you make, the websites you visit, and more. When you’re online, you’re the product.” Tony Alfred underscored the need for citizens to actively shape digital laws; “Despite the digital space’s rapid expansion, citizens have often been sidelined in the decision-making processes concerning digital regulations.”Anna Kulaya stressed the importance of digital platforms in promoting inclusivity, stating, “We should look at how we utilize our platforms to advocate for the involvement of women, youth, and individuals with disabilities in democracy and digital usage.”

Panelists from left;Maxence Melo (Jamii Forums), Anna Kulaya (WILDAF), Badru Juma (Restless Development) and Tony Alfred (The Chanzo)

Key takeaways included;

  • The importance of good governance in ensuring the proper use of technology. Good laws promote responsible technology use.
  • Technology mirrors our societal behaviors, and online democracy reflects our community engagement beyond technology.
  • The need to empower youth with digital skills and encourage their active participation in matters that concern them.
  • The importance of citizens having control over the digital space and not facing restrictions on their full online participation.
  • The significant role of CSOs in educating communities about their civic rights and responsible digital usage to foster an informed society for active democracy.
  • The importance of  citizens to understand their rights, as it makes it easier to defend and uphold them, particularly in relation to the Constitution.

An engaging moment emerged when an audience member, Kamala Dickson voiced a compelling thought: ” It is crucial for the government to develop a digital voter registration system, that will make it easier for young people to exercise their right to vote in local and general elections without jeopardizing their livelihood.

Kamala Dickson contributing during the discussion

UNA Tanzania’s session at the 2023 CSO Week proved to be a hub of insightful discussions, offering diverse perspectives on technology, society, and democratic participation in Tanzania. The event successfully fostered an environment for dialogue, innovation, and collaborative efforts to harness the transformative power of technology in the country.