Case Study

2007–8 African food riots

Major riots against rapidly rising food prices and consequent heightened hunger problems occurred in 14 countries across Africa (and at least 16 elsewhere in the world) over around 12 months from the Spring of 2007: Guinea, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Cameroon, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Egypt, Madagascar, Somalia, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Protestors were killed by security forces in Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Somalia and Tunisia. There is a long history of food riots on a national scale but no precedent of this kind of internationalisation of such protests. Prices stabilised after a 2007–8 spike but underlying factors promoting food insecurity remain. In 2011 food riots reignited in Algeria and Tunisia, the latter of which sparked the revolution that toppled the Ben Ali government and the subsequent wave of protests and revolutions across much of the Arab world. 

The top ten famines in history




Principal cause


China 1958–62

30 million

POLITICAL – forced urbanisation and collectivisation of agriculture.


N. China 1876–8

12 million

NATURAL – drought


Bengal 1770

10 million

NATURAL – drought


C. India 1876–8

6 million

NATURAL – drought


Ukraine 1932–3

5 million

POLITICAL – harsh USSR quotas on Ukrainian grain collected centrally.


N. Korea 1995–

2 million

NATURAL – drought and floods


Bengal 1943–4

1.9 million

POLITICAL – supply and price of rice negatively affected by World War Two.


Rajputana, India 1869

1.5 million

NATURAL- drought


Orissa, India 1865-6

1 million

NATURAL – drought in 1865 followed by floods in 1866.


India 1897

1 million

NATURAL – drought


Ireland 1845–7

1 million

NATURAL – potato blight.

Source: Hough, P. (2013) Understanding Global Security (Routledge).