Human Information Behavior Among African Refugees in Tanzania: An Exploratory Study of the Nyarugusu Camp

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Year of Completion


First Advisor

Gregory Hunt


The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the role that information plays in the decision-making process of people leaving their native countries in distress and seeking refuge in a camp in a foreign country, in this case, Tanzania. The rise in the number of refugees globally is of vital concern to the United Nations (UN), at both national and worldwide levels. There are millions of people who have been displaced because of increasing conflicts. The problem is severe in countries such as: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Somalia, where the right to adequate food and protection might be insufficient or non-existent, and where fundamental human rights are also not valued. The majority of countries involved are in Africa; moreover, it is regularly reported that women and children are exposed to sexual violence as a result of food insufficiency and the lack of protection, along with other causes.

Information is essential to human beings in any environment and information is viewed "as evidence, as things from which one becomes informed." This research study explored the information needs of refugees in one camp. In consultation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), I selected Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania. This study is based on one-on-one interviews with refugees and with UNHCR officials (in the field in Tanzania and in New York City), focus groups with refugees, and unobtrusive observation of the Nyarugusu Camp and its refugee population. A total of 70 refugees (22 women and 48 men) participated in this study. Five UNHCR officials, both in the field in Tanzania and New York City, were interviewed.

This study investigated the following research questions and hypotheses: Research Question 1: What role does information play for people in the refugee camp? Hypothesis 1: A majority of refugees engage in information use while in the refugee camp. Research Question 2: How are different refugee demographic characteristics reflected in the use of information by refugees in the camp? Hypothesis 2: People from village backgrounds tend to express a greater need for information than do people from rural backgrounds. Hypothesis 3: Women report the need for information more significantly than do men. Hypothesis 4: There are no prominent demographic differences in information usage patterns among types of refugees in the camp. Research Question 3: What social characteristics are evident among refugees who express a perceived value in the use of information? Research Question 4: What are some information usage patterns evident among refugees? Research Question 5: Do interviews with the refugees suggest that outside political influences affect their use of information? Hypothesis 5: More people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo witnessed violence than people from Burundi.

This study investigated many aspects of information use by refugees. These included: the kinds of information that potential refugees received prior to leaving their countries; the persons to whom they listened; the information sources that they used; the role of information within the refugee camps; and the ways that the layout of the camp related to the flow of information. The research study used content analysis, a qualitative approach. Axial coding was used to build taxonomic categories of interview data, focus group transcripts and unobtrusive observation notes of refugee information use. Axial coding also was used to create a preliminary working ontology of refugee information sharing. The qualitative statistical software Atlas.ti was used to code the text. A categorization dictionary was built in the eight main categories based on the highest frequently occurring terms and phrases on the data. Chi Square was used to conduct the analysis of variance (ANOVA) to test the hypotheses. Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, charts, and tables were used to answer various research questions. Also used were domain analytic techniques by empirically applying theories that model information needs and behaviors. Information Seeking Behavior (ISB) models already established in the literature were applied in order to identify the information behavior patterns evident among the subjects examined in this study. Three models were constructed: (1) "The Information Seeking Model of Refugees in Nyarugusu Camp" showed the various information usage patterns of the refugees; (2) "A Depiction of External Factors Relating to Refugees' Use of Information" categorized external factors; and (3) "A Model of Information Acquisition and Exchange" depicts information acquisition and use by refugees in Nyarugusu Camp.

The findings indicate that: a majority of refugees engage in information use while in camp, people from rural backgrounds tend to express a greater need for information than do people from village backgrounds, and men report the need for information more significantly than do women.