U.S. Ambassador Puts Zambia on Notice
Washington gives the country $500 million in support a year, he says, but has little to show for it in terms of cooperation and human rights.
On Dec. 2, Daniel Foote, the U.S. ambassador to Zambia, put out a statement that came down hard on the government in Lusaka. His remarks came in response to criticism from Zambian President Edgar Lungu, who threatened to complain to the Trump administration over Foote’s harsh response to Zambia’s sentencing of two men to 15 years in prison because of their relationship. In his statement, Foote chided the Zambian government for its treatment of sexual minorities and for its interactions with the United States. “Let us stop the facade,” he implored, “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.” In comments that were unusually direct for an ambassador, he suggested that Zambia commit to “improve its decaying relationship with the United States,” which gives the country $500 million in support a year, before it is too late.
Foote’s full statement is below.
Let us first acknowledge World AIDS Day, which we will celebrate tomorrow in Zambia. We highlighted this year’s theme, “Communities make the difference,” last week in Mandevu, with a huge, wonderful, and exceptionally welcoming group from Lusaka’s largest constituency, as we opened a clinic in the market. Many thanks to the PF [the Patriotic Front, the ruling political party] supporters, who professionally and kindly provided security for me, showing the benefit of these young men when they’re not being sent on political errands.
The American people have provided more than $4 billion in HIV/AIDS support in the last 15 years. Working closely with the Ministry of Health, we currently have well over 1 million Zambians on life-changing antiretroviral medicine, touching close to half of the families in the country. By knowing your HIV status and being on treatment, which prevents transmission, the only difference between HIV-negative and HIV-positive today is the medicine.
Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination remain as our biggest mutual challenges in eradicating the AIDS epidemic. 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.
Lamentably, I will be unable to attend tomorrow’s AIDS Day events because of threats made against me, via various media, over my comments on the harsh sentencing of homosexuals.
My job as U.S. ambassador is to promote the interests, values, and ideals of the United States. Zambia is one of the largest per capita recipients of U.S. assistance in the world, at $500 million each year. In these countries where we contribute resources, this includes partnering in areas of mutual interest and holding the recipient government accountable for its responsibilities under this partnership.
The U.S. government is far from perfect, and we always welcome feedback, including from Zambia through your embassy in Washington. If we didn’t, we might not have changed our repugnant laws allowing slavery and other human rights contraventions, historical misdeeds for which I passionately apologize.
I highly appreciate the exceptional welcome and friendship extended by Zambia’s wonderful people throughout my two years here, and I have nothing but the highest respect for your citizens. I read with interest Honorable Minister [Joseph] Malanji’s reaction to my opinion regarding the harsh sentencing of a homosexual couple, and the hundreds of other comments made by Zambian citizens on social media.
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.
I agree that this this issue is completely up to Zambians to decide. You are blessed with a diversity of Christian denominations, and while I understand that many are not Catholic, let me cite Pope Francis. He has repeatedly spoken about the need for his church to welcome and love all people, regardless of sexual orientation. In 2016, the pope said, “When a person arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say, ‘Go away because you are homosexual’.”
While I am not here to litigate our bilateral disagreements point by point, I would like to share the U.S. perspective directly, before it’s filtered through Zambia’s state-controlled media.
I agree that we should be working to improve critical issues like food insecurity and the electricity shortage, but Americans can’t do it alone, without cooperation from your government. The U.S. brought energy experts to work with Zambian ministries for over two years, and we jointly developed a plan to reform the sector and ensure better electricity delivery to the people. This plan has been dormant for over a year, because of domestic politics. We’ve seen the awful impact of the drought, and I expect to imminently announce additional American help for those most affected by hunger.
In my two years, I have strived to improve the U.S.-Zambia partnership, with minimal success. 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. Minister Malanji reminded me that I have “always been granted audience to the Ministry and the Government of Zambia.” That is not the case. With few exceptions, the U.S. president’s personal representative to Zambia—me—has been relegated to meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the permanent secretary level.
Despite $500 million in annual American, debt-free support to the Zambian people, I have been granted exclusive bilateral audience with the president only five times in two years, usually with delays of months upon my request, and little action of mutual interest has been taken by State House. Last week, we rearranged my schedule—and I’m somewhat busy administering a half-a-billion dollars in annual programs here—to meet with the president on Friday. On Friday, State House told me to come Saturday, a day already filled with rescheduled meetings. That’s not mutual respect. Both the American taxpayers and Zambian citizens deserve a privileged, two-way partnership, not a one-way donation that works out to $200 million per meeting with the head of state.
The foreign minister accused me of interfering with Zambia’s internal affairs, as he has done each time any foreign diplomat accredited to Zambia offers an opinion different to that of the current Zambian government, and of “questioning the Zambian Constitution.” I just reread Zambia’s entire constitution, which I believe is an admirable document, and there is no reference to “having sex against the order of nature,” or of homosexuality for that matter. Your constitution does declare, however, to uphold “a person’s right to freedom of conscience, belief or religion; the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person,” to “respect the diversity of the different communities of Zambia,” and to “promote and protect the rights and freedoms of a person.” 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. I expressed my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don’t agree with. I didn’t interfere in internal affairs.
When considering the status of Zambia’s “very independent” judiciary, I note the president’s strong, recurring statements in July through yesterday rejecting homosexual rights and “gayism.” I wonder if that could have any impact on the courts. Again, this is a matter for the Zambian people to decide, but the Zambian people deserve transparency and truth.
Regarding the minister’s denials over my comments about government officials stealing millions of dollars in public funds, the government always requests “evidence” of such misdeeds. Is that really the role of the international community? In recent history, numerous donor partners have carried out investigations, with the cooperation of the Zambian government, concluding that many millions of dollars have been misappropriated in the Ministries of Community Development and Social Welfare, Education, and Health. In most cases, the Zambian government assumed responsibility and quietly made restitution to the donating organizations from public funds. However, like the lack of public information made available on Zambia’s debt acquired over the past few years, the government has chosen not to share this vital data with its citizens, nor have we seen assertive corruption prosecutions. If this happened with funds from a handful of donors in a few ministries, what could be happening on a broader basis?
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Zambian citizens have expressed despair to me about sharing conflicting opinions, fearing intimidation, imprisonment, physical assault, closure of media houses, etc., examples of which are well documented in recent years. These dissenting opinions are certainly not shared by state-controlled media such as ZNBC, Zambia Daily Mail, and Times of Zambia. It’s time to advocate for a real voice for all Zambians and uphold a person’s right to freedom of conscience and belief.
I have consistently pledged that it’s not my place to tell Zambia what to do but that I would always be honest and frank. The exceptional yearly assistance from American to Zambian citizens, and the constitution of Zambia, should enable all of us to express our opinions without acrimonious accusations or actions. I hope the government of Zambia commits to improve its decaying relationship with the United States, but that is a decision for it to make.
This statement is taken from the website of the U.S. Embassy in Zambia.