The U.S. ambassador to Zambia was recalled back to the U.S. after he criticized Zambian authorities’ imprisonment of a gay couple. This is the latest event in a series of difficulties that the U.S. Ambassador Daniel Foote has had in the country. According to African News, after this latest criticism of the government, Zambian officials sent a protest letter to Washington stating that the position of the ambassador was “no longer tenable” and that the Zambian President could no longer work with him. The recalling of the ambassador was Washington’s response to the issue. The decision came after several informal complaints; then, when the formal written complaint was issued to Washington, it became clear that Ambassador Foote was not wanted in Zambia and could not properly do his job if he was not welcomed by his hosts.
Reuters obtained a statement from a U.S. embassy source regarding Ambassador Foote’s recall, “Since [President] Lungu says he does not want to work with Foote, there was no point of him remaining. Also, don’t forget that there are security issues so Washington wants their man back.” A second U.S. embassy source added, “The U.S. cannot be paying a salary to someone who cannot work because the hosts don’t want him.” Regarding the incident, Ambassador Daniel Foote said he was “personally horrified” at the decisions to sentence the couple to 15 years in jail; he also added, “Meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution, political cadres can beat innocent civilians…with no consequences, poaches can kill numerous elephants…and face a maximum of only five years.” A spokesperson for the State Department said, “The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTQ persons. Governments have an obligation to ensure that all people can freely enjoy the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled.”
African countries have some of the strictest laws regarding homosexuality, ranging from imprisonment to death. Though the actions of Ambassador Foote may be regarded as unprofessional, there is an issue in many countries of complacency. These laws are accepted whether simply because they are the established laws or because it is a cultural norm to reject homosexuality. Ambassador Foote’s actions, while not establishing concrete change, did bring attention to the issue and to the human right violations in Zambia and many countries across the world. Ambassador Foote’s outspokenness regarding this issue brought attention to these violations and broke the tradition of complacency in the face of injustice. Washington’s decision to recall the ambassador while maintaining its relations with Zambia is a logical one. The State Department also spoke out against the mistreatment of LGBTI people in Zambia; however, without any consequences, these words are likely to remain just words. This statement is an example of a change in the attitude of the US government over the last decade and a half, considering gay marriage was only legalized nationwide in the US in 2013.
Last month, Zambia’s high court sentenced a gay couple to 15 years in prison for engaging in sexual relations “against the order of nature,” according to The New York Times. The Ambassador spoke out against this ruling specifically, angering the Zambian President. Many African countries have come under fire over the last decade regarding these kinds of laws. The Obama administration cut aid to Uganda and Malawi due to homophobic laws and policies. Additionally, in October, Uganda revealed plans for a bill that would impose the death penalty for gay sex, but this was reversed after major backfire from aid donors. Zambia’s harsh sodomy law prohibits sexual relations between same-sex couples and punishments range from imprisonment to death.
Besides the recall of Ambassador Foote, Washington does not plan to take other major action against Zambia. Zambia receives millions of dollars in aid and financial support annually from the U.S.. Some of this aid goes directly to fighting the HIV/AIDS crisis that continues in many parts of Africa. A spokesperson from the State Department assured that the U.S. continues to seek “an open and frank relationship of mutual respect, commensurate with the generous aid provided to the Zambian people by the United States.” Despite the ambassador’s comments, the United States remains committed to the Zambian people and relations between the U.S. and Zambia will only feel minor ripples of the wave that Ambassador Foote made with his criticism of the Zambian government.
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