Despite having one of the greatest public health challenges, leading to lockdowns, economic downturn, and triggering a repressive environment, the year 2020 emphasised the resilience of protests around the world.
In early 2020, when little or nothing was known about the Covid-19 and the general view of it being a local challenge, the protest inrush predominant in the second half of 2019 continued. Large protests erupted in places like Hong Kong, Chile and Lebanon, including minuscule demonstrations like Iran’s.
However, the widespread of the Covid-19 pandemic in March rapidly reduced the number and size of protests around the world. One would wonder if the pandemic had suppressed global protests and citizens resistance. Still, the appeasement didn’t hold sway as many protests reemerged a few weeks after the widely imposed lockdowns.
Many of these protests revolved around core political issues that triggered global demonstrations in recent time, such as electoral manipulation, police brutality and corruption and bad governance. Corruption has continued to be a powerful stimulant of public dissatisfaction and protests across many democratic and authoritarian nations. An instance is Bulgaria, where the rising corrupt practices have triggered months of protests against the administration of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. In the same vein, the corrupt system and state capture in Venezuela have also sparked protests since 2014. Another instance was the #RevolutionNow protest in Nigeria – a youth demonstration for a change in Nigeria’s inept and corrupt government.
Away from bad governance, political transitions and elections were also critical. In Sudan, for instance, dissatisfaction with the long-overdue transition to democracy sparked a massive movement that started during the second half of 2019 but flared up in 2020. While in Belarus, over 50,000 people took to the streets of the nation’s capital to demand the removal of the country’s authoritarian leader, who won another term after 26 years in office, in an election widely perceived as manipulated.
Movements against electoral manipulation leading to political unrest led to the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Kyrgyzstan. While in Peru, a deadly crackdown on protesters forced the interim president to resign after only five days in office.
Another popular movement in 2020 was the protest against police brutality. From Black Lives Matter in America to the End SARS in Nigeria and protests over police security bill in France, ending police brutality and discrimination has sparked many protests.
Protests are often driven by different factors, while no particular causal factor dominates. In fact, a protest outbreak could be triggered by multiple factors. However, the recent protest wave is often a reflection of citizens dissatisfaction with corrupt legacies within the government, the ineptitude of rulers and police brutality, above all a resistance of a receding state that has become more forceful and less responsible in terms of the provision of public goods.
Even though pinning down the exact short and long term effects of protest may be difficult, protests have been widely regarded as one of the viable means of showing citizens dissatisfaction with unfavourable political practices.
While in Nigeria today, many pro-government citizens perceive the surge in protests as an opposition strategy against the current administration, studies have shown that demonstrations are significantly associated with high levels of dissatisfaction with the state of governance, which may vary with regards to the adopted political system.