Food Insecurity and Political Violence

What is food insecurity?

Eating the same food over and over – not because of choice, but because there are few other good options – is food insecurity. A food insecure household has food, but it is of low quality, or there is little variety of it, or it is unhealthily disagreeable. As a result of food insecurity, people living there will change their eating habits: they eat less food than what is recommended, or they eat intermittently, or too often they choose unhealthy options.

Food insecurity can happen in wealthy and in poverty-stricken countries.

How does food insecurity lead to political violence?

Widespread food insecurity can turn into political violence which can widen the spread of food insecurity. A story from Kenya in 2007 illustrates this.

In 2007, Kenya went to the polls to elect a president. A winner was announced, but the challenger said that the election was a fraud. Many of the post-election protests were non-violent, but some were very violent. In this time, over eleven-hundred people died. In 2008, UN President Kofi Annan brokered an uneasy peace and power-sharing deal between the two presidential candidates.

Things got worse.

The result of the violence, and, in 2008, the historic drought, disrupted road access to villages and towns. No access meant people in those towns could not get to their jobs. It meant that food and other needed resources could not get to the slums. People got frustrated and blamed each other. They attacked other people.

The violence mushroomed.

Traders couldn’t open their stalls for lack of foodstuffs and fear of the violence, and of the looting, and of the arson. The violence disrupted transports of maize and other food staples. Slum residents struggled to find fresh vegetables. The food that did arrive was expensive. And since slum residents were poor day laborers, most did not have a store of foodstuffs in their homes.

The result was rampant food insecurity.

“We experienced severe hunger because maybe you have money in your pocket but you could not buy food…” an older man from Kenya remembered. “There was too much hunger such that people would attack a cow; there were some men who used to rear cows here, they would attack a cow and cut it into pieces alive (even without slaughtering it). Even the pigs; there was no chance of slaughtering; just cutting them and running away with the meat… If you had money in the bank, the banks were closed.”

“That was hunger,” he said.

Photo by bennett tobias on Unsplash

Further Reading

You can read more about in Occam’s Press.

The quote above is from the article by Elizabeth W. Kimani-Murage, Lilly Schofield, Frederick Wekesah, Shah Mohamed, Blessing Mberu, Remare Ettarh, Thaddaeus Egondi, Catherine Kyobutungi, and A. Ezeh. “Vulnerability to food insecurity in urban slums: experiences from Nairobi, Kenya,” published in 2014 in the Journal of Urban Health (91, no. 6): 1098-1113.

To understand what food insecurity, the article by Elizabeth W. Kimani-Murage and colleagues (p. 1110) is helpful, as is the USDA’s Definitions of Food Security.

For Kenya’s post-election crisis, read Karuti Kanyinga and James D. Long’s “The political economy of reforms in Kenya: the post-2007 election violence and a new constitution,” published in 2012 in African Studies Review.

Copyright The Sociology Place 2022

Joshua K. Dubrow is a PhD from The Ohio State University and a Professor of Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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