The invasion of the US Capitol building, the home of its Senate and House of Representatives, by die-hard supporters of a President Trump who, despite losing around 60 court cases, still refuses to accept defeat in the US elections, sends very disturbing and embarrassing messages to the world about a country that prides itself as the leader of the Free World.
It is not good pretending that what is unacceptable in the US — violent attempts to subvert the constitution and an election can be acceptable in other countries like what the local opposition MDC-Alliance has been trying to do since its electoral loss in 2018.
What is wrong in the US is wrong elsewhere and what is right is right elsewhere. And many observers, including the US Government, need to follow the same rules.
The facts are fairly simple. Since the US presidential election in early November last year, President Donald Trump has refused to accept he was defeated, and instead has continually, to the near exclusion of any other activity except his frequent golf games, claimed he was cheated.
He has made accusation after accusation that there was large-scale and systematic fraud in a swathe of states, mainly those he won in 2016, but lost this time around, but has failed to provide any evidence, let alone hard evidence. Legal teams have launched lawsuits in numerous states and federal courts, and even managed to approach the US Supreme Court twice.
They have consistently lost, except for one small case involving a law that allowed a handful of votes that a judge found was improperly passed. Even that victory did not involve any evidence of fraud, only a legal error. President Trump has then been putting pressure on elected Republican officials to refuse to accept the results in their states and, in the last such attempt in Georgia, to actually try and persuade a state official to “find” an extra 11 000 votes.
On Wednesday, he addressed a rally he had called in central Washington of die-hard supporters, some of them belonging to organisations that his own FBI has designated as potential domestic terrorism threats, and after inflaming them in a speech launched them towards the Capitol building, where Congress was meeting to perform the final and largely ceremonial process of certifying the election result, a result everyone has known for almost two months, but which has to be formally announced.
The invaders turned violent, attacked the special police unit that guards the centre of the American legislature, overwhelmed it and invaded the Capitol building, trashing offices and trying to attack legislators who they thought were not sympathetic to their demands.
In particular Vice President Mike Pence, a solid supporter of his boss, but one who refused to obey unconstitutional instructions to subvert the election results, seemed to have been a target.
Mr Pence and legislators were evacuated, some staff managed to escape while others had to barricade themselves in offices, tear gas was thrown, and four attackers died, one after being shot and the cause of the other three deaths still is under investigation.
Forces were mobilised to regain control of the situation.
The mayor of Washington mobilised the city’s national guard, a sort of volunteer reserve for the military, but which the state governors and the Washington DC mayor can mobilise to support police, The governors of neighbouring Virginia and Maryland, after appeals for support, sent in state troopers, that is state police as opposed to city police, and units of their own national guard. Order was eventually restored, and Congress was able to reassemble to complete the process of certifying Mr Joe Biden the next president of the US.
Obviously just about everybody outside the US condemned the invasion, and most condemned Mr Trump for his role, and most inside the US, including a growing swathe of his own party, condemned the actions of the President.
Generally everyone would agree that it was the most unfortunate incident and that the authorities were justified in taking strict action to end the invasion and that Mr Trump carries a lot of the blame. Americans can be thankful that others, including supporters of Mr Trump, were ready to obey the law and their constitution.
This is all depressingly familiar to Zimbabweans. After the 2018 presidential election one candidate, Nelson Chamisa, refused to accept the result. Some of his aides inflamed a crowd that turned violent and started trashing Zanu PF properties and other premises. Outnumbered police sought manpower from the army to help control the disturbances. A handful of people were shot. Mr Chamisa went to the Constitutional Court to overturn the result, but the judges found that he could not present any evidence at all, so unanimously dismissed his suit. He, and a die-hard group of supporters, have yet to accept he lost.
It was all very unfortunate. President Mnangagwa did set up an international commission to investigate, and improvements to procedures of law enforcement were recommended and accepted. Reports from independent teams found the election was fair and the result accurate, despite a couple of minor glitches, and again recommended small improvements to turn a good process into a very good one.
But somehow the morality of the actions was reversed by many in sections of the media and by some Governments. What was unacceptable in the US was deemed “right” in Zimbabwe. What was an acceptable and measured response in the US was brutality in Zimbabwe.
We would agree with those who find President Trump’s refusal to accept a very clear defeat totally unacceptable. We agree that his actions this week were totally wrong. We agree that the mob of his violent supporters were subverting the law and constitution, and in general we agree that the actions the authorities took to clear up the mess were probably the right ones, although we hope there will be investigations into the deaths.
What we cannot understand though is why almost identical events in Zimbabwe should be judged differently.
Those who lose elections should accept defeat, just as those who win should be magnanimous, and if there are disputes let the courts decide and then accept the results, or at least the results of the highest court. And if those defeated try to subvert a constitution through violent mob action, then let them be condemned.
But this should be standard, in all cases. It is pure hypocrisy to have one standard for one country and the opposite standard for another. We hope that the US will in future understand better just what the dangers are and will, from its own experience, be able to take a more rational and mature approach to everyone else’s challenges.
Zimbabwe is happy the US overcame the challenge to its constitution.