Live footage of the US Capitol Hill in smoke and besieged by a mob shocked both friends and adversaries and demonstrated America’s fallibility. However, the chaos of January 6th should not be a moment to mock the nation long-regarded as a beacon of progress and liberty. Rather, this should be an opportunity for us to rethink our political values and place of politics in our lives.
There is no doubt that the past four years under Trump were tumultuous. But his direct mobilisation of mobs to attack the seat of democracy represented the lowest moment in the extremist leader’s reign. In the aftermath of widespread protests that followed the killing of black man George Floyd by a white policeman in May 2020, Trump demonstrated he was insulated from the nation’s pain over racial discrimination, even saying Floyd was looking down from heaven and praising the US economy.
In all his incendiary comments over the years, we had somehow expected he would go ahead to comfortably lose the November 2020 election and America will try to climb out of its pit of shame. However, despite everything he has said to stoke divisions and hate, Trump was supported by many Americans.
His incitement of the Capitol chaos in a bid to circumvent the process of handing over power to Joe Biden was a new low. While the behaviour of Trump should be differentiated from the strong US state institutions, more than 70 million Americans voted for him. Does that indicate that many Americans supported his sickening behaviour?
The four years under Trump and results of the recent elections have eroded the US’s role as a global moral police and promoter of freedoms. Arch foes China, Iran and Russia have already said the recent attack on the Capitol was a demonstration of flaws in the US system. In Africa, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, seemingly spoke for many when he said the riots “showed that the US has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy”.
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In essence, will the US government and its diplomats lecture other countries about democratic values or elections, when Trump claimed the November election was rigged? It is likely some African leaders will seek to get away with fraudulent elections by exploiting this.
Not that America should lecture anybody, but the battered image of the global power threatens to undermine the respect of human rights and other freedoms in Africa that America has long championed.
China, Africa’s biggest trading partner, does not speak up about freedoms, only focusing on winning big state tenders. It is not expected that Beijing will change its policy of not commenting on issues like elections, even when there are clear cases of fraud. In the past few years, many African leaders have been pushing for constitutional changes to stay in power and circumvent the will of the people. It is apparent freedoms have declined and authoritarianism is on the rise in Africa. With friends like China and a tattered image of the US, some dictators are likely to use this opportunity to exploit the US’s vulnerability.
Of course, it is important to promote civic freedoms and grow our democratic credentials as a people and as a continent. We must work harder to build accountability in leadership and civic awareness. This responsibility lies with all of us, including the media, NGOs, leaders and citizens. Any slip will undermine social cohesion, respect for the rule of law and economic growth.
Even as the new US administration seeks to demonstrate that Trump was not who America is, it must cultivate meaningful and respectful engagements with the world. America has been a key partner in counter-terrorism in East and West Africa. There are also many areas the US can partner or support Africa with trade, health, security, governance, justice and other areas.
-The writer is a public affairs commentator. [email protected]