Feeding unrest : food prices, food security and protest participation in Africa and South Africa




Smith, Todd Graham

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Recent food riots throughout much of Africa and the Middle East in the wake of spikes in international food commodity prices have fueled a renewed academic and popular interest in the long-recognized connection between food prices and social unrest. This dissertation addresses the question how do rising prices and food insecurity contribute to socio-political unrest of all types, rather than focusing on events labeled food riots in the popular media. The dissertation addresses this question at the macro and the micro levels. It begins with a macro-level analysis of changing consumer food price indices and the occurrence of unrest in 40 African countries. It then proceeds to a case study of protest of in South Africa. This case study first reviews the history of political protest in South Africa and the context of a rash of protests that have plagued South Africa over the past decade focusing on local government service delivery. Next a careful examination of trends of economic inequality and food spending in South Africa provides an understanding of the structural factors contributing to relative deprivation in South Africa. Finally, the results of an original survey conducted in a service delivery protest hotspot in Cape Town, reveals that food insecurity is a significant determinant of individual protest participation. These macro and micro level studies lead to the conclusion that food insecurity and rising food prices contribute to increased relative deprivation and predisposition to political protest at the individual level and, consequently, to increased incidence of socio-political unrest.



LCSH Subject Headings