Bread and Freedom: Linking Democracy and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

by Kirk Harris


This article looks at the effect of politics on food security in thirty-­eight Sub‑Saharan African nations since 1990. In so doing, it helps clarify the causal mechanisms through which democracy impacts hunger. In contrast to previous empirical research where democracy is often treated as one‑dimensional, this study incorporates multiple measures of democracy and freedom. The cross‑national statistical analysis uses data from the Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), as well as data on democracy and civil liberties from a variety of extant sources. The article finds that while variables measuring the procedural and institutional elements of democracy are not connected to levels of hunger in Africa, the protection of civil liberties is moderately associated with improved food security. This conclusion is borne out by a brief case study of Ghana, whose democratic transition in the 1990s has proceeded in tandem with significant reductions in hunger. Taken together, this suggests that the positive effects of democracy on food security in Africa are not a result of the opportunity for Africans to discipline non‑responsive elites at the polls, but of the effectiveness of political liberalization in creating new spaces for vulnerable populations to mobilize and to make their voices heard.

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Kirk Harris is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University. His research focuses on the political economy of development in Sub-­‐‑Saharan Africa. He has conducted dissertation field work in Kenya with the support of the National Science Foundation and the Indiana University Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis.