Food riots: Media perspectives on the causes of food protest in Africa

Abstract

When food prices spiked in 2007–8, urban Africa experienced more instances of food riots than any other part of the world. Problems were then encountered again during the 2010–11 food price spikes. This paper explores the cases of 14 African countries where food riots occurred during these two periods by presenting a qualitative content analysis of news reports on the riots drawn from both global and local African news sources. This analysis highlights the ways in which the media portrayed the links between food price rises and food riots in Africa. Briefly, our results show that the international media generally portrayed poverty and hunger as the factors that linked the incidence of food price rises with the occurrence of riots. By contrast, the African media tended to portray food riots as being caused by a more complex set of factors, including citizen dissatisfaction and people’s ability to mobilize. Exploring both the international and local interpretations of the drivers behind the food riots is important for the understanding of the multi-scalar and multifaceted factors that shape increasing food insecurity in urban Africa.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “I earn E£ 800 per month (almost 100 euros), but my salary is consumed before half of the month. I live on credit, we eat anything.” To give meat to his two children, Abdallah fell back on offal, which is affordable (translation done by one of the authors).

  2. 2.

    Faced with regimes in place since independence in 1960, citizens of these countries felt suffocated. The cost of living was a little more each day. When young people (mostly students) chose the street, the soldiers fell upon them and crushed a few hundreds (translation done by one of the authors).

  3. 3.

    No recovery can happen without political will. I want you to note that the stimulus that was prescribed following the riots of February 2008 never took place due to lack of political will. I speak of a political will to act and not political promises (translation done by one of the authors).

  4. 4.

    The absurdity of the system begins to emerge: countries export although they cannot even feed their people (translation done by one of the authors).

  5. 5.

    Before pushing Africans to produce vegetables out of season for European markets before selling their grain produced at home or in the United States, it would not be so bad to ensure that they are able to feed themselves (translation done by one of the authors).

  6. 6.

    In Senegal, one of the world’s largest importers of rice, with Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, the traditional rice-base lunch dish, will soon be unaffordable for the poorest (translation done by one of the authors).

  7. 7.

    Women continue to suffer, there is nothing that is done to ease their burden. When the woman is relieved everyone is (translation done by one of the authors).

  8. 8.

    “Gbagbo the market is expensive”, “Gbagbo, we are hungry”, the women of Abdidjan cried Monday, March 31 to the Ivorian President (translation done by one of the authors).

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Correspondence to Lauren Q. Sneyd.

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Sneyd, L.Q., Legwegoh, A. & Fraser, E.D.G. Food riots: Media perspectives on the causes of food protest in Africa. Food Sec. 5, 485–497 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-013-0272-x

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Keywords

  • Africa
  • Food riot
  • Food price rises
  • Urbanization
  • Media analysis