US Ambassador to Zambia forced to leave country after confronting government over jailing of gay couple

Daniel Foote, Zambia

The US Ambassador to Zambia has been recalled after a dispute with the country’s government over the sentencing of a gay couple to 15 years in prison.

The Zambian government has this week issued a statement saying that Foote’s job is “no longer tenable,” effectively declaring him a “persona non grata” and forcing his return to the US.

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

He also accused 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 sent a protest letter to Washington stating his refusal to work with the ambassador. Foote was unable to attend certain events due to “threats made against” him.

A spokesperson for the US State Department told Reuters: “We are dismayed by the Zambian government’s statement that Ambassador Foote’s position ‘is no longer tenable,’ which we consider to be the equivalent of a declaration that the ambassador is persona non grata.

“Despite this action, the United States remains committed to our partnership with the Zambian people,” they added.

Edgar Lungu president of Zambia

Zambian president, Edgar Lungu. (Grzegorz GalazkaArchivio Grzegorz GalazkaMondadori via Getty)

“The US 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.”

Reuters heard from a US embassy source that “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 want their man back.”

“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.

When criticised by Zambian officials, Foote reportedly replied that all Zambia wants is diplomats “with open pocketbooks and closed mouths.”

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

Zambia’s foreign affairs ministry did not respond to a request for comment.