THE United States says it is dismayed by the Zambian government’s statement that Ambassador Doniel Foote’s position “is no longer tenable”, which it considers to be the equivalent of a declaration that the Ambassador is persona non grata.
Persona Non Grata is a Latin term, which means an unacceptable or unwelcome person.
Speaking at a church event in Choma last week, President Edgar Lungu said, “We have complained officially to the American government, and we are waiting for their response because we don’t want such people [Ambassador Foote] in our midst,”… “We want him gone.”
The Head of State’s statement followed Ambassador Foote’s criticism of a 15-year jail term imposed on two Kapiri Mposhi men convicted for engaging in homosexual acts.
Ambassador Foote drew a parallel between the harsh prison term for two consenting adults and how corruption suspects were treated in Zambia.
Responding to a press query by The Mast, Arness Vanessa, press officer in the US Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs said “despite this action, the United States remains committed to our partnership with the Zambian people.”
“We seek an open and frank relationship of mutual respect, commensurate with the generous aid provided to the Zambian people by the United States,” Vanessa said.
According to the Department of State, US assistance to Zambia “is robust, totaling close to $500 million annually. US assistance fights HIV/AIDS; expands and improves the quality of health and education opportunities; strengthens democratic and accountable governance; provides clean water and improves sanitation; helps create trade and business development opportunities; and builds Zambian capacity to promote regional peace, security, and stability.”
On bilateral economic relations, it states that Zambia is eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The US exports to Zambia include vehicles, machinery, rubber, and electrical machinery. US imports from Zambia include copper, cobalt, precious stones (emeralds), and food stuffs (coffee, tea, honey, and spices). The United States has signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), of which Zambia is a member.
Vanessa said the Department of State works tirelessly to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings around the world, regardless of gender, religious belief, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic circumstance.
She said the United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) 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. As Secretary [of State Michael] Pompeo said in September 2019, ‘Unalienable rights are at the core of who we are as Americans. We abhor violations of these rights, whenever and wherever they are encountered’,” said Vanessa.
Recently, Ambassador Foote said Zambia’s approach to US assistance had been unappreciative and arrogant.
Addressing the media at the embassy, Ambassador Foote described US-Zambia relations as strained.
“In my two years, I have strived to improve the US-Zambia partnership, with minimal success. Let us stop the façade 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,” he said. “…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.”
Ambassador Foote said he was not happy with the way the government was treating its bilateral friends.
“The overall Zambian government’s approach to US assistance has been incredibly unappreciative and arrogant. And that is not the way you treat your bilateral friends,’’ said Ambassador Foote. “And I know that they are not gonna be happy to hear this. But I told you that I will be frank and honest. And I fear that they worry that the United States is gonna tell them what to do; we’re not gonna tell them what to do. But we’re gonna hold them accountable for a real partnership. And we’re gonna express our opinions when we see things that are inappropriate, either to their responsibilities over this partnership or to Zambia’s own Constitution.”
In September, US President Donald Trump pledged to help end the criminalisation of homosexuality worldwide. Addressing world leaders at the United Nations on September 24, President Trump said, “We stand in solidarity with LGBT people who live in countries that punish, jail or execute individuals based upon sexual orientation.”
And in a tweet marking LGBT+ Pride Month last June, President Trump stated that his administration had launched a global campaign to decriminalise homosexuality and invited other nations to join in.
President Trump gets support from the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative LGBT+ group that in August endorsed his reelection.
In its endorsement, the group applauded President Trump for “removing gay rights as a wedge issue from the old Republican playbook.”