LUSAKA/WASHINGTON — The United States has withdrawn its ambassador to Zambia following a row with authorities in the southern African nation after he criticized the jailing of a gay couple, embassy sources said Monday.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said Washington is “dismayed” by the Zambian government’s statement that Ambassador Daniel Foote’s position “is no longer tenable.”
“Despite this action, the United States remains committed to our partnership with the Zambian people,” the spokesperson said. “We seek an open and frank relationship of mutual respect, commensurate with the generous aid provided to the Zambian people by the United States.”
Zambia’s high court last month jailed the male gay couple for 15 years for engaging in sexual relations “against the order of nature,” a decision the US ambassador said was horrifying.
President Edgar Lungu said on Dec. 15 that Zambia, a major beneficiary of US aid, had sent a protest letter to Washington over the remarks by Foote and was awaiting a response.
A US embassy source who is not allowed to issue statements told Reuters that Washington had decided to recall its ambassador because it was difficult for him to work in Zambia.
“Since 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,” the source said.
“The US cannot be paying a salary to someone who cannot work because the hosts don’t want him,” a second US embassy source said.
Zambia’s foreign affairs ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Zambia receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year in financial support from the United States, some of which goes toward fighting HIV/AIDS.
African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
“The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTI 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,” the State Department spokesperson said.