To call 2021 the summer of discontent would be a severe understatement. From Cuba to South Africa to Colombia to Haiti, often violent protests are sweeping every corner of the globe as angry citizens are taking to the streets.
Each country has different histories and realities on the ground, particularly in Haiti, where years of violence and government corruption culminated two weeks ago in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. But they all faced a perfect storm of preexisting social, economic, and political hardships, which fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic only inflamed further. And they are merely a foreshadowing of the post-coronavirus global tinderbox that’s looming as existing tensions in countries across the world morph into broader civil unrest and uprisings against economic hardships and inequality deepened by the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic was a once-in-a-century crisis that not only shocked countries’ existing health systems but also demanded a response that impacted—and was itself shaped by—economic, political, and security considerations. The efforts to contain it may have curbed fatalities in the short term but have inadvertently deepened vulnerabilities that laid the groundwork for longer-term violence, conflict, and political upheaval and should serve as a danger sign to world leaders as countries reopen—including in the United States.
History is full of examples of pandemics being incubators of social unrest, from the Black Death to the Spanish flu to the great cholera outbreak in Paris, immortalized in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Underlying it all this time around is a pervasive inequality. COVID-19 has ripped open economic divides and made life harder for already vulnerable groups, including women and girls and minority communities.