US recalls ambassador to Zambia after gay rights row

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Daniel Foote, US ambassador to ZambiaImage source, United States Department of State
Image caption,
Daniel Foote was critical of the Zambian government

The US has recalled its ambassador to Zambia amid a diplomatic row after he criticised the imprisonment of a gay couple, embassy sources have said.

Last month, Daniel Foote said he was "horrified" that a judge had sentenced the men to 15 years in prison after they were caught having sex in 2017.

The government accused him of trying to dictate policy, and President Edgar Lungu declared him persona non grata.

Zambia is a deeply conservative society where homosexual acts are illegal.

"You cannot ask a government to make a decision at gun point - 'because we are giving you aid, we want you to do this' - you can't," Zambia's Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji told the BBC last week.

Approached for comment by the BBC, the US State Department neither confirmed nor denied that the ambassador had been withdrawn but said that it was "dismayed by the Zambian government's statement that Ambassador Foote's position 'is no longer tenable', which we consider to be the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".

Last month, a High Court in the capital, Lusaka, sentenced Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba to 15 years in jail. The couple had booked into a lodge, and a worker peeped through an open window and saw them having sex, the court heard.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Zambian President Edgar Lungu had asked the US ambassador to leave his post

In a statement earlier this month, Mr Foote said he was merely expressing "my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don't agree with". He warned of a "decaying relationship" between the two nations, and said the Zambian government wanted diplomats "with open pocketbooks and closed mouths".

Mr Foote said millions of dollars of donor aid had been misappropriated, but there had been no "assertive corruption prosecutions". Zambia is one of the largest per-capita recipients of US aid, getting about $500m (£390m) annually.

A win over a superpower

By Kennedy Gondwe, BBC reporter, Lusaka

It is rare to hear of an African state forcing a superpower to recall its ambassador but Zambia has managed to do it.

"We don't want such people in our midst. We want him gone," President Lungu said.

So Mr Foote's return to Washington is a victory for the government, but will it last? The US could retaliate by cutting aid, especially after Mr Foote raised concern about the misappropriation of donor funds.

Zambia's constitution identifies the country as Christian. Many citizens believe homosexuality is a sin, but they also believe theft is a sin.

US embassy sources confirmed to news agencies and local media that Mr Foote had been recalled by Washington.

"[President] Lungu said he does not want to work with the man [Mr Foote] and so there was no point in him remaining here," an unnamed source told AFP. "Remember that there are issues of security and so Washington want their man back. We do not expect a replacement soon."

Mr Foote served as Zambia's ambassador since December 2017.

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