A senior U.S. State Department official criticized the government of Zambia on Thursday after the Trump administration called its ambassador back to Washington amid a fight over gay rights.
Zambia’s high court sentenced two men this month to 15 years in prison for engaging in a sexual relationship ‘against the order of nature,’ a euphemism for gay sex.
Ambassador Daniel Foote was openly critical of Edgar Lungu’s government in Lusaka, saying he was ‘personally horrified’ by the imprisonment. Lungu shoved back publicly, saying he wanted Foote to leave.
‘We don’t want such people in our midst. We want him gone,’ Lungu said in a public speech at a revival tent-style church fundraiser, broadcast by the state-owned TV network ZNBC. He also thanked churches in Zambia ‘for voicing out against unchristian values such as homosexuality.’
Tibor Nagy, the Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs, tweeted Thursday that he was ‘[d]ismayed by the Zambian government’s decision requiring our Ambassador Daniel Foote’s departure from the country.’
DAniel Foote (center) was U.S> ambassador to Zambia until the State Department called him back to Washington this month
Zambian President Edgar Lungu said his country’s Christians didn’t want Foote to stay after he expressed shock at a 15-year prison sentence handed down to two men for engaging in gay sex
The State Department hasn’t condemned Zambia’s homophobic views despite its year-long push to convince countries to decriminalize homosexuality; one assistant secretary said he was ‘dismayed’
A State Department spokesperson declined on Friday to say why it was ‘required’ to recall Foote. The spokesperson said that the Zambian government had called Foote’s position ‘no longer tenable,’ a declaration ‘which we consider to be the equivalent of a declaration that the Ambassador is Persona Non Grata.’
The State Department has engaged in a full-court press this year against nations that treat LBGTQ citizens as criminals. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell, the Trump administration’s most visible openly gay official, has been an outspoken leader in the program.
‘I want them to understand that you cannot put someone in jail or kill someone for simply being gay,’ Grenell said last week at a United Nations event. He called decriminalizing homosexuality ‘absolutely a uniting issue.’
On a per capita basis, Zambia is among the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. This year Americans sent a half billion dollars to Lusaka, including $400,000 in HIV program assistance.
Funding from the Bush-era U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief pays for more than 1 million Zambians to receive antiretroviral drugs that keep the AIDS virus in check. That program has poured $4.25 billion into Zambia overall.
Lungu condemned Foote this month in a speech to a revival tent full of worshipers during a church fundraising event
‘We don’t want such people in our midst. We want him gone,’ Lungu said of Foote, as he thanked churches in Zambia ‘for voicing out against unchristian values such as homosexuality’
The U.S. sends $500 million to Zambia every year, including $400 million in 2019 earmarked for AIDS relief; the funds come from the Bush-era President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
The HIV pandemic wiped out most of a generation of Zambian adults, leaving a population heavily weighted toward children and the elderly. More than 1 million Zambians, in a country of 17 million people, are orphaned children.
Lungu has been openly defiant of the U.S. and Europe, saying he won’t sacrifice the ultra-conservative views of his overwhelmingly Christian nation in order to court foreign donors.
‘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,’ he told Sky News immediately after the court sentence drew international outrage.
Foote’s response was a 1,500-word open letter accusing Zambian officials of ‘steal[ing] millions of public dollars without prosecution.’ He said poachers who illegally kill protected elephants in Zambia are sentenced to five years in prison, one-third of the penalty for being gay.
Foote claimed ‘[d]iscriminatory and homophobic laws, under the false flags of Christianity and culture, continue to kill innocent Zambians’ who are born with HIV and find it stigmatizing to admit because their countrymen think it means they are gay.
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell, the Trump administration’s most visible openly gay official, has consistently counseled pressure against nations that continue to criminalize their LBGTQ populations
Foote shoved back at Lungu’s slam with a 1,500-word open letter in which he suggested Christian values were incompatible with condemning gay men and women
And he said he would skip Zambia’s commemoration of World AIDS Day because of threats he received.
‘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,’ he wrote. ‘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”,’ Foote added.
He said that despite overseeing $500 million in debt-free aid, he had only been granted five meetings with Lungu in two years.
‘The current government of Zambia wants foreign diplomats to be compliant, with open pocketbooks and closed mouths,’ Foote said.
The Obama administration cited anti-homosexual laws when it cut aid to Malawi and Uganda. The Trump administration has yet to make such a move.