The hunger games: Food prices, ethnic cleavages and nonviolent unrest in Africa
This article in the Journal of Peace Research argues that nonviolent mobilization is made possible in ethnically polarized contexts when broader cross-cutting grievances are present as they enable local activists to widen their appeal across social lines. Nonviolent movements are more successful when mobilizing large and diverse numbers of participants. However, while there has been considerable research on the outcomes of nonviolent campaigns, far less is known about the initial emergence of nonviolent action. A growing literature suggests ethnic divisions may undermine the ability of activists to engage in mass nonviolent mobilization across diverse social lines. Yet many large and diverse nonviolent movements have successfully emerged in various ethnically divided societies across the world. The focus is on food price spikes as an example of a cross-cutting issue that is likely to affect consumers from different ethnic groups. The unique and symbolic nature of food price spikes facilitates nonviolent mobilization across ethnic lines and provides clear short-term incentives for many people to participate in protests against the government. Using new spatially disaggregated data on government targeted nonviolent action, the article analyses grid-cell years across 41 African countries (1990–2008). The article finds strong evidence that food price spikes increase the likelihood of nonviolent action in politically excluded and ethnically diverse locations.