The State Department has pulled its ambassador to Zambia after the American diplomat was ambushed with criticism from his host nation for speaking up against a harsh prison sentence for a gay couple there and complaining about lack of access to the nation’s president even as US provides it with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid annually.
Tibor Nagy, the assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, said in a tweet on December 26 that the Zambian government required the ambassador, Daniel Foote, to leave the country. In response, a spokesperson for the State Department told Gay City News in an email that the US is “dismayed.”
The dispute originated when Foote said he was “personally horrified” to read about a 15-year sentence handed down to a pair of gay men who Zambian officials said were caught having sex in a hotel. The comments drew attention to Zambia’s strict anti-LGBTQ laws but prompted anti-American outrage in the conservative Christian nation, leading to threats that prevented Foote from participating in a World AIDS Day commemoration.
Foote subsequently penned a lengthy written statement on the State Department’s website on December 2 in which he wrote that he “was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of ‘Christian’ values.” He also complained that Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu only met with him five times in two years despite welcoming $500 million in US aid every year.
“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,” Foote said in that statement.
Lungo and his administration fired back, ripping Foote’s comments as “disrespectful” and accusing him of meddling in Zambian affairs. Lungu added, “We know that there could be people who are homosexual in Zambia but we don’t want to promote it.”
Zambia then formally wrote to President Donald Trump, saying Foote was interfering with Zambia’s sovereignty.
In removing Foote from Zambia, the State Department pointed to Zambia’s statement that Foote’s role is “no longer tenable” and said that amounts to “the equivalent of a declaration that the Ambassador is Persona Nona Grata.”
“Despite this action, the United States remains committed to our partnership with the Zambian people,” the State Department added. “We seek an open and frank relationship of mutual respect, commensurate with the generous aid provided to the Zambian people by the United States.”
The State Department insisted that it “works tirelessly to protect and promote the human rights” of people all around the world, a statement that conflicts with the Trump administration’s actions targeting LGBTQ rights, at home and even abroad, throughout his presidency.
On a global level, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — whose homophobia dates back to his time in Congress — has put forward a new panel this year that is re-evaluating the US’ human rights efforts abroad, a move that has been met with widespread criticism by folks who say the administration is scaling back its focus on LGBTQ rights around the world.
Richard Grenell, the out gay US ambassador to Germany, has touted a global initiative he is leading to decriminalize homosexuality, though there are questions about the seriousness of that effort given that Trump, when asked about it in February, said he did not know about it.
The State Department did not respond to a question about whether the US intends any quick replacement for Foote with a new ambassador to Zambia.