Zambia’s anti-gay president wants US ambassador to leave the country after defending two men jailed for loving each other

Daniel Foote, Zambia

The president of Zambia is calling on the US ambassador to resign and leave the country for defending a gay couple who were sentenced to 15 years in jail for having a consensual relationship.

Ambassador Daniel Foote said he was “personally horrified” by the harsh sentence passed down on the two gay men, Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, for a relationship “which hurt absolutely no one”.

He also accused the authorities of having double standards when it comes to pursuing other crimes, noting: “Government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution.”

The comments provoked a furious reaction from president Edgar Lungu, who has officially complained to the Trump administration. “We don’t want such people in our midst. We want him gone,” he told the state-owned ZNBC TV on Sunday.

Same-sex relationships are outlawed in Zambia, where British colonial-era laws on homosexuality still apply.

Chataba and Samba were arrested in 2017 after checking into a hotel together. Hotel staff reported them to authorities, claiming they had witnessed them having sex. In November the couple were convicted of “crimes against the order of nature”, and their appeal was denied.

President Lungu has said he would reject the $500 million in US aid that Zambia receives each year if it requires the country to accept LGBT+ rights.

“We are saying no to homosexuality,” he told Sky News. “When you are tying it to aid, if that is how you are going to bring your aid, then I’m afraid the west can leave us alone in our poverty. And we’ll continue scrounging and struggling.”

The president’s outrage was echoed by the Zambian foreign minister Joseph Malanji, who said Foote’s remarks were “tantamount to questioning the Zambian constitution”.

I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as ‘dogs’, or ‘worse than animals’.

Shortly after, Foote was forced to cancel scheduled appearances at World AIDS Day events “because of threats made against me” on social media.

He responded in a press statement. “I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of ‘Christian’ values, by a small minority of Zambians,” he said.

“I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that Christianity meant trying to live like our Lord, Jesus Christ.

“I am not qualified to sermonise, but I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as ‘dogs,’ or ‘worse than animals;’ allusions made repeatedly by your countrymen and women about homosexuals.

“Targeting and marginalising minorities, especially homosexuals, has been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many countries.  In my heart, I know that real Zambian values don’t merit your country’s inclusion on that list, ever.”