From Arnold Mulenga in Lusaka
The diplomatic tiff between Zambia and the United
States of America (USA) over the sentencing of two men for homosexuality
highlights the tendency by US envoys to interfere in host countries’
domestic affairs, undermining their independence as well as bullying
them into submission with the threat of cutting aid.
At the centre of the storm is the emotive issue of same sex liaisons,
which are outlawed in the Southern African country but permitted in the
US, a country which claims to have the most progressive constitution and
upholds human rights.
In accordance with domestic laws, a court in Zambia has jailed for 15
years two men convicted of having a same-sex relationship.
The pair aged 30 and 38 were charged with the crime of “having sex
against the order of nature” following an incident at a hotel last year.
No sooner had the court passed sentence than US Ambassador to Zambia,
Daniel Lewis Foote, reacted with “horror”.
The envoy described the sentence as “harsh” in a reaction that was seen
as having overstepped his mandate.
There was outcry in Zambia following Foote’s stance.
He added to the controversy by claiming, “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.”
“Targeting and marginalising minorities, especially homosexuals, has
been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many
countries,” he further stated, much to the disquiet of Zambian political
leaders and citizens.
Foote further claimed he was unable to attend the recent World Aids Day
events “because of threats made against me, via various media, over my
comments on the harsh sentencing of homosexuals”.
But Dora Siliya, the Zambian Minister of Information and Broadcasting,
reminded him that Zambians had rejected homosexuality.
“The government stands with the people of Zambia who even through this
latest constitution review process said ‘No’ to homosexuality,” she said.
Siliya referred an interview President Edgar Lungu had with international
media where he stood firm that Zambians’ rejection of same-sex
relations did not make them uncivilised.
“They (Zambians) just love their God. Until Zambians change, gayism is
illegal,” the president was quoted as saying.
There was also displeasure at the hint by Foote that the US would
withhold aid to Zambia if the bilateral relationship does not improve.
Zambia is one of the largest per-capita recipients of US assistance in
the world, at $500 million each year.
Foote, who has been in the post for two years, also alleged corruption
at government level as the basis why bilateral ties should be
A concerned citizen, Mumu Mpinda, said, “So tired of countries like the
US threatening to pull financial support if we don’t follow their
rules. Zambia needs economic independence please. We are barely
sovereign if such threats can still be made.”
Siliya criticised the stunt by Foote to discuss bilateral issues through
“Our ambassador, no matter the difference of opinion, will not address
the media in US,” the minister said.
Foote is the second US envoy to cause a diplomatic storm between the US
and a Southern African nation.
US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, recently triggered outrage
when he accused the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa of using
sanctions imposed by the US at the turn of the millennium as a scapegoat
for failing to revive the economy.
The continent has pledged solidarity with Zimbabwe against the
restrictive measures effected by the US after Zimbabwe repossessed land
from mainly 4000 white commercial farmers in order to correct past
colonial land dispossession injustices.
– CAJ News