Conflict in Africa during COVID-19: Social Distancing, Food Vulnerability and Welfare Response

41 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2020

Date Written: may 28, 2020


We study the effect of social distancing, food vulnerability, welfare and labour COVID-19 policy responses on riots, violence against civilians and food-related conflicts. Our analysis uses georeferenced data for 24 African countries with monthly local prices and real-time conflict data reported in the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) from January 2015 until early May 2020. Lockdowns and recent welfare policies have been implemented in light of COVID-19, but in some contexts also likely in response to ongoing conflicts. To mitigate the potential risk of endogeneity, we use instrumental variables. We exploit the exogeneity of global commodity prices, and three variables that increase the risk of COVID-19 and efficiency in response such as countries colonial heritage, male mortality rate attributed to air pollution and prevalence of diabetes in adults. We find that the probability of experiencing riots, violence against civilians, food-related conflicts and food looting has increased since lockdowns. Food vulnerability has been a contributing factor. A 10% increase in the local price index is associated with an increase of 0.7 percentage points in violence against civilians. Nonetheless, for every additional anti-poverty measure implemented in response to COVID-19 the probability of experiencing violence against civilians, riots and food-related conflicts declines by approximately 0.2 percentage points. These anti-poverty measures also reduce the number of fatalities associated with these conflicts. Overall, our findings reveal that food vulnerability has increased conflict risks, but also offer an optimistic view of the importance of the state in providing an extensive welfare safety net.

Keywords: Riots, violence against civilians, food-related conflict, food insecurity, effects of welfare and labour programmes, Africa, COVID-19

JEL Classification: D74, Q11, Q18, I38, J08

Suggested Citation

Gutierrez-Romero, Roxana, Conflict in Africa during COVID-19: Social Distancing, Food Vulnerability and Welfare Response (may 28, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Roxana Gutierrez-Romero (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London ( email )

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London, London E1 4NS
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