I hope the government of Zambia commits to improve its decaying relationship with the United States, but that is a decision for it to make, says American Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote.

And Ambassador Foote says he has re-read the entire Zambian constitution and there is no reference of homosexuality in the document.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Foote says he was shocked about the venom and hate expressed against him all in the name of Christianity and culture.

Ambassador Foote has also lamented that contrary to government’s assertion that its doors were always open to diplomats, President Edgar Lungu had canceled a meeting with him last minute, whilst he had been relegated to engaging with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at permanent secretary level.

On Wednesday last week, the Lusaka High Court sentenced a Kapiri Mposhi gay couple to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour for “unnatural acts”, or for having carnal knowledge of each other “against the order of nature.”

Disturbed by this sentence, Ambassador Foote issued a statement in which he argued that it did not make sense to jail two men for such a long time for merely being in a relationship whilst public officials who were stealing public funds were left to go scot free.

But on Saturday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Malanji held a media briefing at which he described Ambassador Foote’s remarks as unacceptable, arguing that Zambians would not be forced to start sleeping with dogs just because another country considered it right to do so.

Malanji said to this effect, the Zambian government had resolved to present a formal démarche to the American government over their Ambassador’s “unfair” comments about this country’s affairs.

At a press conference yesterday, however, Ambassador Foote, said it was time to advocate for truth and openness in Zambia and if no one is going to do it, he would, no matter the consequences.

He observed that Zambia’s current government expected diplomats to be complaint whilst keeping open pockets.

“In my two years, I have strived to improve the US -Zambia partnership, with minimal success. Let us stop the facade that our governments enjoy ‘warm and cordial’ relations. The current government of Zambia wants foreign diplomats to be compliant, with open pocketbooks and closed mouths. Minister Malanji reminded me that I have always been granted audience to the Ministry and the government of Zambia. That is not the case. With few exceptions, the US President’s personal representative to Zambia—me—has been relegated to meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Permanent Secretary level. Despite $500 million in annual American, debt-free support to the Zambian people, I have been granted exclusive bilateral audience with the President only five times in two years, usually with delays of months upon my request, and little action of mutual interest has been taken by State House. Last week, we rearranged my schedule—and I’m somewhat busy administering a half-a-billion dollars in annual programs here—to meet with the President on Friday. On Friday, State House told me to come Saturday, a day already filled with rescheduled meetings. That’s not mutual respect. Both the American taxpayers, and Zambian citizens, deserve a privileged, two-way partnership, not a one-way donation that works out to US $200 million per meeting with the Head of State,” Ambassador Foote said.

He wondered whether Zambia’s laws corresponded to the country’s constitution, which provided every person the right to freedom and expression of conscience and belief.

“The Foreign Minister accused me of interfering with Zambia’s internal affairs, as he has done each time any foreign diplomat accredited to Zambia offers an opinion different to that of the current Zambian government, and of questioning the Zambian constitution. I just re-read Zambia’s entire constitution, which I believe is an admirable document, and there is no reference to having sex against the order of nature or of homosexuality for that matter. Your constitution does declare, however, to uphold a person’s right to freedom of conscience, belief or religion; the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person to respect the diversity of the different communities of Zambia and to promote and protect the rights and freedoms of a person. It is up to Zambian citizens and the courts to decide if your laws correspond to your constitution, but your constitution itself provides every person the right to freedom and expression of conscience and belief. I expressed my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don’t agree with. I didn’t interfere in internal affairs,” he said.

“When considering the status of Zambia’s very independent judiciary, I note the President’s strong recurring statements in July through yesterday rejecting homosexual rights and gayism. I wonder if that could have any impact on the courts. Again, this is a matter for the Zambian people to decide but the Zambian people deserve transparency and truth.”

He insisted that Zambia had a serious problem with regards to theft of public resources.

“Regarding the Minister’s denials over my comments about government officials stealing millions of dollars in public funds, the government always requests evidence of such misdeeds. Is that really the role of the international community? In recent history, numerous donor partners have carried out investigations, with the cooperation of the Zambian government, concluding that many millions of dollars have been misappropriated in the Ministries of Community Development and Social Welfare, Education, and Health. In most cases, the Zambian government assumed responsibility and quietly made restitution to the donating organizations from public funds. However, like the lack of public information made available on Zambia’s debt acquired over the past few years, the government has chosen not to share this vital data with its citizens, nor have we seen assertive corruption prosecutions. If this happened with funds from a handful of donors in a few ministries, what could be happening on a broader basis?” Ambassador Foote asked.

“Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Zambian citizens have expressed despair to me about sharing conflicting opinions, fearing intimidation, imprisonment, physical assault, closure of media houses, etc examples of which are well documented in recent years. These dissenting opinions are certainly not shared by state-controlled media such as ZNBC, Zambia Daily Mail, and Times of Zambia. It’s time to advocate for a real voice for all Zambians and uphold a person’s right to freedom of conscience and belief. I have consistently pledged that it’s not my place to tell Zambia what to do, but that I would always be honest and frank. The exceptional yearly assistance from American to Zambian citizens, and the constitution of Zambia, should enable all of us to express our opinions without acrimonious accusations or actions. I hope the government of Zambia commits to improve its decaying relationship with the United States, but that is a decision for it to make.”

Asked if his government would cut aid to Zambia, Ambassador Foote said the US was reviewing its assistance to this country.

“About a year ago, the government of Zambia broke international migration conventions by the refoulement of Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Tendai Biti who requested asylum here and was not provided the processes and appeals that should be available to all asylum seekers. At that time, I was advised by policy makers in Washington that we would review US assistance to Zambia, that review is ongoing,” Ambassador Foote said.

“I don’t want make today about foreign assistance but obviously, over time, if we are in a country and we have done great things together and Zambians and Americans should all be proud about what we have done, particularly in the health sector. I want to give the government of Zambia the opportunity to renew and rejuvenate its partnership with the United States, however, overtime, if you see someone is not cooperating, I think the natural inclination would be that assistance levels could change.”

He disclosed that because of threats against his life, he would not attend this year’s World Aids Day celebrations.

“I did not say I feel unsafe I said that we have received threats against me and we have learnt over the years to take all threats seriously. I don’t think that the Zambian people would want to harm me but there could be crazy people out there. So tomorrow doesn’t give us the opportunity and venue to ensure my security but I will continue to do my job in Zambia. I am not going to hide in an armed building or an armed car but given the short time frame and the inappropriate threats that we have to track down and run down, that is not going to affect my desire or ability to do my job. I tried so hard understanding the controversy of the same sex issue in Zambia not to make this statement an issue, since July President Lungu at every opportunity has come out strongly against the rights of people of the same sex to love and be with each other and I have ignored it and then last week in both state papers the banner headline was something like ‘Gays sentenced to 15 years’ and I saw that as an attempt…and granted you have your laws and I respect your laws and I saw this headline as the government kept pounding its chest and say ‘see we don’t allow this’ and intimidating the 10 percent of your population that was born homosexual. So we have these other bilateral issues shunning over the past many months and we have tried to solve them and we could have solved them behind closed doors but the government of Zambia chose not to do so and minister Malanji chose to have a public fight about my comments, my opinion and so now it is time to advocate for truth, openness and freedom here in Zambia if nobody else is going to do that, I am going to do it whatever the consequences might be,” he vowed.

Asked to describe Zambia’s relationship with the US, Ambassador Foote said it was strained.

“Strained! And I will elaborate a little bit. Since I have been here, it has been a one way street. The government of Zambia is happy for us to come in and head for the majority of Zambians to do our work and economic development and prosperity conservation, support Zambia’s great work with refugees and peace keeping etc and Zambian government is happy to do that, I have found State House…and let me on the record [to] say I have excellent relationships with a number of ministries here particularly the Ministry of Health and others and they have been wonderful and appreciative. The overall Zambian government’s approach to US systems has been incredibly unappreciative and arrogant,” Ambassador Foote said.

“And that is not the way you treat your bilateral friends and I know they are not going to be happy to hear this but I told you I will be frank and honest. And I fear that they worry that the United States is going to tell them what to do, we are not going to tell them what to do but we are going to hold them accountable for real partnership and we are going to express our opinions when we see things that are inappropriate, either to their responsibility under this partnership, or Zambia’s own constitution. I think they thought I would be a compliant open pocket book, closed mouth and that would be the end of it but the United States is a nation that provides assistance to many developing countries in the world and we do that first for US interest if Zambian people are healthy, people in the region are healthy, and diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria Tuberculosis tends to be important to the United States so we share values. If Zambia is a stable secure country then we tend to have stability and security in the region if Zambia enjoys economic growth an inclusive progress then that affects the whole world including the United States so we have a lot of shared interests but the level of cooperation form the government of Zambia during my two years has been less than acceptable.”

Meanwhile, Ambassador Foote said he was shocked by the amount of venom directed at him under the veil of Christianity.

“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. I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that Christianity meant trying to live like our Lord, Jesus Christ. I am not qualified to sermonize, 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 marginalizing 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. I agree that this issue is completely up to Zambians to decide. You are blessed with a diversity of Christian denominations, and while I understand that many are not Catholic, let me cite Pope Francis. He has repeatedly spoken about the need for his Church to welcome and love all people, regardless of sexual orientation. In 2016, the Pope said, “When a person arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say, ‘Go away because you are homosexual’,” said Ambassador Foote.