[By Tuesday Bwalya]
In the recent past, the United States of America (USA) envoy, Daniel Foote, has been in the media for simply expressing shock at the length of the jail sentence handed over to a gay couple in Kapiri Mposhi by the Kabwe High Court.
Ambassador Foote took the opportunity to remind the Patriotic Front (PF) government to use the same vigor and harsh sentence to the people who have been stealing public funds. These comments by Mr Foote did not go down well with the government and its surrogate political parties, NGOs, chiefs and churches. They accused Mr Foote of supporting gay rights and that he wanted the Zambian government to legalise gay and lesbian rights. The public media, especially the national broadcaster, ZNBC, paraded many people to condemn and demand the expulsion of Ambassador Foote. There has been agitation for the Zambian people to rise against the US envoy and his government.
I have watched the video of Ambassador Foote’s press conference; there is nowhere he said that Zambia should introduce gay rights. He was just complaining that the sentence was too harsh, considering the fact that government officials who have been implicated in the theft of public resources, many of them have never been investigated, arrested and sentenced to such a long jail period.
I do not support gay rights but on this one, I wish to agree with the US envoy that the government has never shown similar commitment to the fight against corruption as they have shown against gay rights. Since President Lungu took up office, very few politicians and senior government officials have appeared in courts over corruption; his administration has simply paid lip service to corruption.
As Zambians, we should understand that the US government has been our biggest donor for many years. It buys our medicines; including the anti-retroviral drugs for our people who are positively living with the HIV virus. The same US government has been funding the sanitation improvement project in Lusaka. Some new townships such as Meanwood Ndeke and Kwamwena Valley have for the first time started receiving pumped water, courtesy of the American people and their government.
Further, the US government has built lecture theatres, offices and computer laboratories for the University of Zambia. More importantly, the US government gives Zambia USD$ 500 million every year in budgetary support. Which government can give Zambia such money for free? Even China cannot; China gives us loans.
If the US government decides to withdraw its support to Zambia, are the PF sponsored politicians, pastors and chiefs willing to help the Zambian government financially? Let us learn to respect countries that have been helping us.
It has also emerged that the USA government has been willing to help Zambia sort out load shedding. A team of engineers from the USA came to Zambia and plans were drawn on how load-shedding could be reduced, but our government has been delaying progress.
Personally, I feel that Ambassador Foote and his government are not our enemies but our friends. The biggest enemy we have as Zambians today is this PF government which is not committed to solving our problems. This government has failed to grow the economy; the economy has shrunk from 6 per cent to 2 per cent.
Further, this government has failed to mitigate the impact of climate change by subjecting us citizens and businesses to unimaginable load shedding. Areas in which no PF official lives, load-shedding lasts for more than 15 hours every day. Furthermore, under the PF’s watch, our currency is facing a nosedive; it has been losing value to major currencies at unprecedented rate. Today, the Kwacha is trading at 15.30 to a US dollar.
The problem with the PF government is that it does not want to take responsibility over what we the Zambians are going through. It either accuses climate change of causing economic problems; or deviates Zambians’ attention from real issues. Zambians need to be discussing issues such as load-shedding and the collapsing of the kwacha, not gay rights.
The other day, I heard the government and its leader saying they were ready for 2021. Ready for what? They are ready to continue with the same confusion; ready to continue shrinking the economy? Please, you have failed us; apologise for subjecting us to untold misery. You have failed to manage the economy. And due to lack of vision, you have plunged the country into total darkness.
I have said this over and over; gay and lesbian rights are not our priority as a country. Our hot issues are the economy, load-shedding, currency collapsing, unemployment, corruption, tribalism, etc. I therefore do not see why someone should begin debating an issue which will not add value to our lives.
To Ambassador Foote, I thank you for reminding our government to show more vigor on the fight against corruption and load shedding. We expect the US government, through you, sir, to counsel our government because the USA is the world leader and top donor to Zambia. It is within your right to demand transparency for all the resources you give to Zambia. Like you said during the press conference, only minority Zambians especially those who have been profiting from the confusion we are experiencing as a country will look at you as an enemy.
The author is a lecturer at the University of Zambia, department of Library and Information Science.