Explaining the African food riots of 2007–2008: An empirical analysis
A sharp escalation in worldwide commodity prices precipitated the global food crisis of 2007–2008, affecting the majority of the world’s poor, causing protests in developing countries and presenting policymakers with the challenge of simultaneously addressing hunger, poverty, and political instability. These food price shocks fomented violent civil responses in some countries, but not others, offering a unique opportunity to assess the factors that contributed to these disturbances. We explore this question empirically with specific reference to Africa, where “food riots” occurred in at least 14 countries. By examining the socio-economic and political conditions facing African countries, we attempt to answer why only some countries in Africa witnessed food riots in late 2007 and early 2008, while others did not. Our empirical analysis demonstrates that higher levels of poverty (as proxied by the Human Poverty Index), restricted access to and availability of food, urbanization, a coastal location, more oppressive regimes and stronger civil societies are associated with a higher likelihood of riots occurring. We also examine three country cases (Egypt, Mozambique, Niger) which represent different circumstances and responses to the food crisis, and identify specific factors that were associated with food protests in each case. Our study highlights the importance of pro-poor policies and investments and improved governance in addressing the problems facing the poor and in helping secure political stability. As the frequency and variability of natural disasters increase in response to climate change, such policies can serve to protect the poor from the debilitating consequences of the resulting shocks.
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