U.S.-Zambia relations ‘decaying’ over U.S. Envoy condemning the jailing of gay couple

Zambian President Edgar Lungu

BY FRED LEWIS

(Lusaka, Zambia) A 15-year jail sentence for two Zambian homosexuals, Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, was confirmed last week after the court quashed their appeal. The development, strongly condemned by the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, appears to be straining relations between Lusaka and Washington.

U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, after unsuccessfully imploring Zambian authorities to review the case and the country’s homosexuality laws, later condemned the jail sentence of Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba in a language that departs from diplomatic tradition. Calling the sentence “harsh and barbaric,” the diplomat, who said he was “horrified by it,” went as far as saying: “Discriminatory and homophobic laws, under the false flags of Christianity and culture, continue to kill innocent Zambians, many of whom were born with the virus. Your citizens are terrified of being outed as HIV-positive, because of the inaccurate and archaic associations between HIV and homosexuality.”

Ambassador Daniel Foote, left, taking the oath (Image by U.S. State Department)

The American diplomat did not stop there: “Let us stop the facade that our governments enjoy ‘warm and cordial’ relations. The current government of Zambia wants foreign diplomats to be compliant, with open pocketbooks and closed mouths.”

Zambian law prohibits homosexuality, so the diplomat’s stance is straining bi-lateral relation, having led to an exchange of harsh words between him and Zambia’s Foreign minister Joseph Malanji, with the latter stating that the American diplomat’s remarks were “tantamount to questioning the Zambian constitution.”

Ambassador Foote squarely rejected the accusation saying: “It is up to Zambian citizens and the courts to decide if your laws correspond to your constitution, but your constitution itself provides every person the right to freedom and expression of conscience and belief.” The career diplomat also said: “I expressed my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don’t agree with. I didn’t interfere in internal affairs.”

Then yesterday, Monday, Zambian President Edgar Lungu, who is outraged by the ambassador’s comments, rebuked the diplomat and said he’d complain to the Trump administration.

Ambassador Foote, who has been serving in Zambia since December 2017, has no doubt his country’s relationship with the host country is ‘decaying’ over this matter. The career diplomat said he “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.” Saying that he felt threatened, the American diplomat had to cancel appearances at World AIDS events today, Tuesday, “because of threats made against me” on social media.

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