Skip to main content

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Image 1

Notes

  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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. “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).

References

  • Abbott, P., & Borot de Battisti, A. (2011). Recent global food price shocks: Causes, consequences and lessons for African governments and donors. Journal of African Economies, 20(suppl 1), i12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Abdelmutti, N., & Hoffman-Goetz, L. (2009). Risk messages about HPV, cervical cancer, and the HPV vaccine gardasil: A content analysis of Canadian and US national newspaper articles. Women & Health, 49(5), 422–440.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Africa Progress Panel. (2012). Jobs, justice and equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change. Lausanne: Africa Progress Report 2012.

    Google Scholar 

  • allAfrica. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://allafrica.com/.

  • Al Jazeera. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://www.aljazeera.com/.

  • Associated Press. (2008). Food and fuel price hikes hit Africans hard. Associated Press

  • BBC (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/.

  • Beddington, J. (2010). Food security: Contributions from science to a new and greener revolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 365, 61e71.

  • Berazneva, J., & Lee, D. R. (2011). Explaining the african food riots of 2007–2008: An empirical analysis.

  • Bigman, D. (2011). Poverty, hunger, and democracy in Africa: Potential and limitations of democracy in cemeting multiethnic societies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bohle, H. G., Downing, T. E., & Watts, M. J. (1994). Climate change and social vulnerability. Toward a sociology and geography of food insecurity. Global Environmental Change, 4(1), 37–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brillat-Savarin, J. A. (1825). The physiology of taste or meditations on transcendental gastronomy. Translated by P. Davis. New York: Dover Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Buhaug, H. (2010). Climate not to blame for African civil wars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16477–16482. doi:10.1073/pnas.1005739107.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bush, R. (2010). Food Riots: poverty, power and protest. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(1), 119–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chang, H. (2009). Rethinking public policy in agriculture: Lessons from history, distant and recent. Journal of Peasant Studies, 36(3), 477–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clapp, J. (2009). Food price volatility and vulnerability in the global south: Considering the global economic context. Third World Quarterly, 30(6), 1183–1196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clapp, J.A., Fuchs. D.A. (2009). Corporate power in global agrifood governance. MIT Press

  • Cribb, J. H. J. (2011). Food security: What are the priorities? Food Security, 3(2), 123–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crush, J., Hovorka, A., & Tevera, D. (2011). Food security in Southern African cities: The place of urban agriculture. Progress in Development Studies, 11(4), 285–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Demeke, M., Pangrazio, G., & Maetz, M. (2009). Initiative on soaring food prices. Country responses to the food security crisis: Nature and preliminary implications of the policies pursued. Rome: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Devereux, S. (2009). Why does famine persist in Africa? Food Security, 1(1), 25–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dougill, A. J., Fraser, E. D. G., & Reed, M. S. (2010). Anticipating vulnerability to climate change in dryland pastoral systems: using dynamic systems models for the Kalahari. Ecology and Society, 15(2), 17.

    Google Scholar 

  • Financial Times. (2001). Era of low-cost food is over, study warns. Reporter: Clive Cookson. Financial Times

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). (2009). The state of food insecurity in the world: Economic crisis-impacts and lessons learned. Rome: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foresight. (2011). The future of food and farming, executive summary. London: The Government Office for Science. http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-547-future-of-food-and-farming-summary.pdf accessed 1.4.11.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fraser, E. D. G. (2011). Can economic, land use and climatic stresses lead to famine, disease, warfare and death? Using Europe’s calamitous 14th century as a parable for the modern age. Ecological Economics, 70(7), 1269–1279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fraser, E. D. G., Dougill, A. J., et al. (2011). Assessing vulnerability to climate change in dryland livelihood systems: Conceptual challenges and interdisciplinary solutions. Ecology and Society, 16(3), 3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fullbrook, D. (2010). Food as security. Food Security, 2(1), 5–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gibbon, P., Havnevik, K. J., & Hermele, K. (1993). A blighted harvest: The world bank and African agriculture in the 1980s. London: James Currey and Africa World Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Godfray, H., Beddington, J.R., Crute, I.R., Haddad, L., Lawrence., Muir., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S., Toulmin, C., (2010). Food security: The challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science Express

  • Goldstone, J. (1991). Revolution and rebellion in the early modern world. Berkley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg, J., & Hier, S. (2009). CCT surveilence and the poverty of media discourse: A content analysis of Canadian newspaper coverage. Canadian Journal of Communication, 34(3), 461–486.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hindman, D. B. (2004). Media system dependency and public support for the press and president. Mass Communication & Society, 7(1), 29–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holt-Giménez, E. (2009). From food crisis to food sovereignty. Monthly Review, 61(3), 142–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • Horner, R., & Aoyama, Y. (2009). Limits of FDI-driven growth in Ireland: A newspaper content analysis for investment, upgrading and divestment. Irish Geography, 42(2), 185–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hossain, N. (2009). Reading political responses to food, fuel and financial crises: The return of the moral economy? Development, 52(3), 329–333.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • IAASTD. (2009). Agriculture at a crossroads: Executive summary of the synthesis report. Washington: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development.

    Google Scholar 

  • Institute of Development Studies. (2009). In N. Hossain & R. Ebyen (Eds.), Accounts of crisis: Poor people’s experiences of the food, fuel and financial crises in five countries. London: Institute of Development Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • IRIN. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://www.irinnews.org/.

  • Le Quotidien Mutations. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://www.quotidienmutations.info/.

  • Levine, S. (2012). The 2007/2008 food price acceleration in Namibia: An overview of impacts and policy responses. Food Security, 4(1), 59–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loveless, M. (2008). Media dependency: Mass media as sources of information in the democratizing countries of central and eastern Europe. Democratisation, 15(1), 162–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Malthus, T. (1798). An essay on the principle of population as it affects the future improvement of society. London: Printed for J. Johnson, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Manez, M., Moors, E., & Fraser, E. D. G. (2011). Socioeconomics, policy, or climate change: What is driving vulnerability in southern portugal? Ecology and Society, 16(1), 28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maxwell, D. (1999). The political economy of urban food security in Sub-Saharan africa. World Development, 27(11), 1939–1953.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McMichael, P., & Schneider, M. (2011). Food security politics and the millennium development goals. Third World Quarterly, 32(1), 119–139. doi:10.1080/01436597.2011.543818.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Minot, N. (2011). Transmission of world food price changes to markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. IFPRI discussion papers

  • Moseley, W. G. (2011). Lessons from the 2008 global food crisis: Agro-food dynamics in Mali. Development in Practice, 21(4–5), 604–612.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moseley, W. G., Carney, J., & Becker, L. (2010). Neoliberal policy, rural livelihoods, and urban food security in West Africa: A comparative study of The Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(13), 5774.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Oster, E. (2004). Witchcraft, weather and economic growth in Renaissance Europe. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18, 215–228. doi:10.1257/089533004773563502.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ouest France. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://www.ouest-france.fr.

  • Patel, R., & McMichael, P. (2009). A political economy of the food riot. Review, XXXII(1), 9–35.

    Google Scholar 

  • Piesse, J., & Thirtle, C. (2009). Three bubbles and a panic: An explanatory review of recent food commodity price events. Food Policy, 34(2), 119–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pinstrup-Andersen, P. (2010). In P. Pinstrup-Andersen (Ed.), The African food system and its interaction with human health and nutrition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press and United Nations University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ringler, C. et al. (2010). Climate change impacts on food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. IFPRI Discussion Paper. Accessed on 21 March, 2012. Available from http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/ifpridp01042.pdf

  • Roetter, R. P., & Van Keulen, H. (2007). Food security. Science for agriculture and rural development in low-income countries (pp. 27–56). Dordrecht: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Reuters France. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://fr.reuters.com.

  • Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sendzimir, J., Reij, C., & Magnuszewski, P. (2011). Rebuilding resilience in the Sahel: Regreening in the Maradi and Zinder regions of niger. Ecology and Society, 16(3), 1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shiferaw, B., Hellin, J., & Muricho, G. (2011). Improving market access and agricultural productivity growth in Africa: What role for producer organizations and collective action institutions? Food Security, 3(4), 475–489. doi:10.1007/s12571-011-0153-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sneyd, A. (2011). Governing cotton: Globalization and poverty in Africa. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Swan, S. H., Hadley, S., & Cichon, B. (2010). Crisis behind closed doors: Global food crisis and local hunger. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(1), 107–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thompson, E. (1971). The moral economy of the english crowd in the eighteenth century. Past and Present, 50, 73–136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tilly, L. A. (1971). The food riot as a form of political conflict in France. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2(1), 23–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Timmer, P. C. (2010). Reflections on Food Crises Past. Food Policy, 35(1), 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Torero, M., von Braun, J. (2010). Alternative mechanisms to reduce food price volatility and price spikes. International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council.

  • Toye, J. (2009). Development with dearer food: Can the invisible hand guide us? Journal of International Development, 21(6), 757–764.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Toynbee, A. (1934). A study of history (Abridged). London: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • UNDP United Nations Development Programme. (2012). Africa human development report 2012: Towards a food secure future. New York.

  • UN High Level Taskforce on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF). (2010). Updated Comprehensive framework for action. New York: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valeurs Actuelles. (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). http://www.valeursactuelles.com.

  • Walton, J., & Seddon, D. (1994). Free markets and food riots: The politics of global adjustment. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wilkinson, S. I. (2009). Riots. Annual Review of Political Science, 12, 329–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • World Bank. (2008). Rising food prices: Policy options and world bank response. Washington, DC: World Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhang, D. D., Brecke, P., Lee, H. F., He, Y.-Q., & Zhang, J. (2007). Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(49), 19214–19219.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lauren Q. Sneyd.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-013-0272-x

Keywords

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