Zambian President Pardons Two Gay Men After Ousting US Ambassador

Zambian President Lungu participates in a discussion at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017 meeting in Durban
Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu has released two gay men from prison months after he booted the US ambassador to Zambia in a diplomatic spat that centered on LGBTQ rights and international aid.
Reuters/ Rogan Ward

Zambia’s president has pardoned two gay men whose arrests and 15-year sentences on anti-LGBTQ sodomy charges triggered diplomatic friction and culminated in the rare ousting of an American ambassador.

Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, the victims, were among 3,000 individuals pardoned by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu on Africa Freedom Day May 25 approximately six months after a High Court in the nation’s capital of Lusaka slapped the pair with the decade-plus-long sentences on charges of having sex “against the order of nature.” The pair were staying at a hotel when a worker claimed she looked through a window and saw them having sex.

It is not clear whether the president’s decision to pardon the couple was related to international pressure or if they were merely two individuals out of thousands who were freed in a mass pardon. Nonetheless, the pair’s incarceration was the subject of international attention and diplomatic friction between Zambia and the United States.

Daniel Lewis Foote, who was then the US ambassador to Zambia, voiced his displeasure with the 15-year sentence, saying he was “personally horrified.” Those comments drew criticism in Zambia, an overwhelmingly Christian nation where it is not uncommon for folks to express homophobic sentiments, and the nation’s government was angered by what it felt was an example of an American diplomat meddling in Zambian affairs.

Although the controversy boiled over with Foote’s comments, the quarrel also became seeped in themes of colonialism. On one hand, the anti-LGBTQ laws at the core of the controversy originated under British colonial rule, and on the other hand the issue revived simmering controversies about whether Western nations should condition international aid on a given set of rules that must be followed by those who are receiving the money.

As the dispute spilled out into the public, Foote used the opportunity to blurt out his longstanding frustrations over his lack of access to President Lungu. Foote bemoaned that he was only able to secure five meetings with Lungu during a two-year span when the US pumped $500 million in aid into Zambia.

“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 a written statement in December of last year.

Soon enough, Zambia demanded that Foote leave the country, prompting the State Department to pull him from his post in late December.

Following the release of Chataba and Samba, however, the leader of the opposition party has called on Lungu to apologize to Foote. In an interview with Hot FM in Zambia, Sean Tembo, the president of the Patriots for Economic Progress, said Lungu victimized and humiliated Foote and is left with no other option than to apologize to the former US ambassador, according to the Lusaka Times.

Foote has remained quiet during the time following his departure from Zambia and it is not clear whether he is working in a different capacity with the State Department.

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