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”.
We didn’t find this strikingly alarming because, firstly; we know that practicing homosexuality in Zambia is a jailable offence and 15 years is not beyond the prescribed imprisonment for this particular crime. Secondly, this is not the first gay couple to be found guilty and sentenced for this crime.
But when American Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote issued his statement which was practically condemning this judgment, something caught our attention. Of course, we felt his message was a little too strong from a diplomat, but nevertheless, we embraced it in the spirit of freedom of speech.
Ambassador Foote was merely expressing his opinion and rendering advice. An opinion is simply what someone thinks about on a given matter, and you don’t have to agree. Advice is also just that; one can choose to take it or leave it. No matter how bad an opinion may be, we should try as citizens to search for something positive in it.
The advice that Zambia must do away with outdated laws that deal with minority rights, may have been put in a tone that probably strays from the common subtle diplomacy, but it must be not be rubbished without reason. Instead, it must be understood in the context of the examples that the American envoy gives about applying the law with hypocrisy and double standards.
Ambassador FOOTE: “I understand that Zambia is a Christian nation. I also understand that the Republic’s constitution was written to protect all citizens. To paraphrase the Bible: ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.’ I was personally horrified to read yesterday about the sentencing of two men, who had a consensual relationship, which hurt absolutely no one, to 15 YEARS imprisonment for ‘crimes against the order of nature’. Meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution, political cadres can beat innocent citizens for expressing their opinions with no consequences, or poachers/traffickers can kill numerous elephants, barbarically chainsaw and sell their tusks, and face a maximum of only five years imprisonment in Zambia.”
Zambians have never been united on social media as they were on condemning this statement from the American diplomat. And this is what shocked us more than anything else on this case. How can a citizenry be this unanimously blinded to what is truly destroying their society?
When a government official is arrested or jailed for theft, public views are divided according to political party inclinations, when protesters are stabbed with metal instruments in the head by known cadres, only a few find time to condemn such barbaric acts. But when the American Envoy says the gay couple did no harm to your economy, citizens of all political affiliation have united to condemn the diplomat.
This is why our country will remain oppressed by economic saboteurs because citizens tolerate rubbish and worship criminals. We are too preoccupied with petty nonsense, leaving the real debates, that can change the course of this country, in the hands of the courageous few.
The argument in this case is; how do you sentence a gay couple to 15 years, for an offence which does nothing more than causing public disgust, and sentence a plunderer of national resources to three years? How do you cheer the sentencing of a gay couple to 15 years imprisonment yet you were quiet when a convicted ex-minister was pardoned after serving a fraction of his prison term for stealing public funds? This is hypocrisy.
Yes, we agree with Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Malanji who says this is Zambia, not America; and Zambian laws must be applied and court judgments must be respected. But are laws followed in Zambia? Are court judgments respected? This, in our view is what the American Envoy is trying to show us. He is basically telling us to wake up and first deal with the crimes that are sabotaging our economic autonomy.
Anyway, it is now our duty to inform the American Envoy that Zambia is far from recognising human rights that defend the interests of homosexuals, lesbians, transgenders and other such minority groups. Like he rightly put it, this is more because of hypocrisy and double standards than moral uprightness.
In fact, it is easier to organize a demonstration against gay rights than it is to organize a peaceful demonstration against the 20 hours load—shedding that has shut down people’s businesses. In Zambia, proof that the President is gay can make him lose power, but he can’t be voted out even if he admitted that he is a thief. It’s not the laws which are outdated, it is our thinking.