Analysts predict global protests surge as COVID-19 triggers unrest


Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will see protests in emerging and frontier markets set to rise with millions of newly unemployed, underpaid and underfed citizens. The coming unrest posed a risk to the domestic stability of governments.

The situation is being described as a “tinderbox” that will drive civil unrest and instability in developing countries in the second half of 2020, according to new analysis.

Highest risk countries facing a “perfect storm”, where protests driven by the pandemic’s economic fallout are likely to inflame existing grievances, include Nigeria, Iran, Bangladesh, Algeria and Ethiopia, the analysis said.

Thirty-seven countries, mainly in Africa and Latin America, could face unparalleled street protests for up to three years, global risk firm Verisk Maplecroft warned.

But the risk of unrest in other countries including India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey are only slightly less acute and still constitute a threat to stability, it warned.

The US, which has seen widespread Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in May, could also see further uprisings, analysts said. The combination of these protests, alongside mounting frustration over job losses and President Trump’s weak pandemic response meant further unrest was “inevitable”.

Civil unrest fell in March this year, following lockdowns imposed by governments in response to the health crisis, according to data provided by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), an NGO which tracks fatalities and other data.

Miha Hribernik, Verisk Maplecroft’s principal analyst said the total number of protests in developing countries has almost rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, as long-standing grievances over socioeconomic inequalities, civil and political rights, and government corruption have resurfaced.

“With many countries still in lockdown, and the full economic shock of the outbreak yet to be felt, we expect the number of protests to surge over the next 2–3 months,” said Hribernik.

“It’s a tinderbox” he said. “It doesn’t take as much as it did a year ago.We had food protests in Manila and protests in Bangladesh over the garment industries.”

At least 166 people died during violent demonstrations in Ethiopia in recent weeks, following the murder of a popular singer, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, and a leading voice in anti-government protests.

Public uprisings have also been seen in Manila, the Philippines, over food shortages and in Bangladesh among garment workers facing unpaid wages after the cancellation of billions of dollars of clothing orders.

In 2019, Verisk Maplecroft recorded 47 countries with a significant uptick in protests, including Hong Kong, Chile, Nigeria, Sudan and Haiti. It predicted more turmoil in 2020.

“It was very much a global phenomenon last year” said Hribernik. “Each protest was unique, primality driven by anger over inequality, corruption, erosion of trust of political elites. These are not issues that can be resolved overnight. They are structural issues that take years or decades to address.”

Countries from every region, except Europe, now fall into the highest risk category, according to the company’s six-month civil unrest projections and its recovery capacity index (RCI).

The RCI uses the strength of state institutions, physical and digital connectivity, economic dynamism, population sensitivity, and other factors, such as natural disasters or terrorism, to determine impacts on recovery from the pandemic.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Verisk Maplecroft expects the risk of protests to intensify amid economic decline, poverty, and inability to guarantee adequate food supplies. In Latin America, Venezuela is ranked as being at greatest risk of unrest. (Source: The Guardian)