Can Trade Liberalization in Agricultural Products Mitigate the Effect of
Extreme Climatic Events on Social Unrest in Africa?

Abstract: There are multiple factors that coincided with the Arab Spring and are widely believed to have caused it. The spike in international food prices in late 2010 and early 2011 is one of these factors. Countries that saw more social unrest in 2011, and earlier in 2008, in Africa and the Middle East, are highly dependent on food imports, mainly due to their relatively low local food production that can be attributed to the frequent extreme climatic events. This article uses a panel of 35 African countries, which covers the years 2000-2017, to investigate if a change in staple food prices is more sensitive to experiencing extreme climatic events, and whether liberalizing trade mitigates this effect. The main results of this article suggest that holding everything else constant, an increase in domestic food prices has no significant impact on social unrest. Nonetheless, an increase in staple food prices while experiencing drought is associated with an increase in urban riots and a decrease in rural riots. Rural riots, on the other hand, tend to increase when experiencing long-term drought. Liberalizing trade on staple foods lowers protests in urban areas, but if the country experiences severe, long-term drought, trade liberalization becomes associated with an increase in peaceful protests in urban areas. Furthermore, eliminating tariffs mitigates the effect of an increase in staple food prices have on nationwide riots. (JEL codes: D74, Q17, Q18, Q34, Q54)