words fail

Zambia angered by US ambassador’s ‘horror’ at its treatment of gay men

Daniel Foote, US Ambassador to Zambia
Daniel Foote, US Ambassador to Zambia (Photo: US Department of State)

The government of Zambia has said it intends to write a letter to Washington to complain about the US ambassador meddling in their country’s internal affairs.

The diplomatic spat has come over the country’s treatment of its gay citizens. Last week, the High Court in Zambia sentenced two men to 15 years imprisonment for having gay sex.

Yes, you read that correctly: 15 years.

Zambia offers no legal protections to LGBTQ citizens. It retains Colonial-era laws outlawing gay sex.

Related: Zambia human rights activist acquitted after pro-gay remarks

The men were arrested in 2017. They’d been caught in a room at a lodge they’d booked in Kapiri Mposhi, central Zambia. A female worker at the lodge said she’d seen what the men were doing through an open window. She then called over colleagues to also witness what was going on in the room.

A magistrate’s court found the men guilty of sex “against the order of nature” last year. The men appealed to the High Court.

However, in its ruling last week, that court backed up the magistrate’s court’s verdict, with the judge, Charles Zulu, saying, “The trial court cannot be faulted and there is no basis to review or substitute the conviction and I further find that there were no irregularities by the trial court.”

The sentencing of the men has been met with international condemnation. Among those to criticize the sentence was US ambassador, Daniel Foote. When asked at a press conference last week what he thought of the case, he said he was “horrified.” He implored the country to review the sentencing.

Zambia receives hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid from the US: No less than $4billion over the last 15 years, much of which goes to helping fight HIV/AIDS.

Asked by reporters if there was a chance the US might cut some of this aid, Foote diplomatically replied: “I want to give the government of Zambia the opportunity to renew and rejuvenate its partnership with the U.S.”

He also took a swipe at the Zambian government, saying the men’s relationship hurt nobody, while at the same time, “government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution.”

In a blistering statement issued yesterday, Foote also said he’d been subjected to hateful comments online since condemning the sentencing last week.

“I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of ‘Christian’ values, by a small minority of Zambians. I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that Christianity meant trying to live like our Lord, Jesus Christ.

“I am not qualified to sermonize, but I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as ‘dogs,’ or ‘worse than animals;’ allusions made repeatedly by your countrymen and women about homosexuals.

“Targeting and marginalizing minorities, especially homosexuals, has been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many countries. In my heart, I know that real Zambian values don’t merit your country’s inclusion on that list, ever.”

Now, Zambian government officials have hit back. Associated Press reports Zambia’s foreign affairs minister, Joseph Malanji, as saying his government intends to send a protest letter to Washington over the remarks over the ambassador meddling in Zambia’s internal affairs.

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In an interview with Sky News yesterday, Zambian President Edgar Lungu also defended the court’s decision, saying Zambian culture prohibited homosexuality. Lungu, a former lawyer, has often spoken out against gay rights in the past.

“If you want to be tying your aid to homosexuality… If that is how you will bring your aid then I am afraid the West can leave us alone in our poverty,” Lungu said.