The ongoing diplomatic battle between the US. Ambassador Daniel Foote and the PF government on the 15 years’ imprisonment slapped on an innocent gay couple confirms the saying “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Despite irresponsible statements from dishonorable and corrupt PF cadres, this immoral sentence harms our nation’s international credibility. The PF government has surpassed Uganda’s anti-gay foolishness, we are now the official gay killing nation. Even PF government’s spokesperson, Hon. Dora Siliya cannot defend this injustice in her statement.
Hon. Siliya’s statement is a child-like plea for US continual economic support, which helps pay for her rich lifestyle. In Hon. Siliya’s world, however, Amb. Foote must only praise the PF government but never criticize its evil policies. This is self-evident in her statement’s citation of the US embassy’s assessment of the socio-political trends in the nation. In order to assuage PF cadres, she nevertheless defines Zambians as God-fearing (thieves, rapists, child molesters, etc), who are anti-gay and pro-death penalty.
I wondered why Hon. Siliya brought up the death penalty, which has nothing to do with the unjust sentence. “Who does not know that 15 years in Zambian prisons is the death penalty?” I initially thought. But then I realized she simply iterated Senegalese President Macky Sall’s response to President Obama during the June 2013 Dakar Joint Press Conference. Whereas Obama called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, Sall argued that Senegal has outlawed the death penalty, which is still lawful in the United States. His country, President Sall argued, was still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality–though gay persons were not persecuted or discriminated against (which was not true). Hence, there is a need to respect each nation’s laws. Unlike President Sall, however, Hon. Siliya could not make such a statement–a gay couple is unjustly and wrongly sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. It is this injustice that horrified Ambassador Foote in a Christian nation where criminals are acquitted, while the innocent overpopulate our life-ending jails.
One could question ambassador Foote’s sincerity in his opposition to the sentence following the Trump administration’s human rights violations. From the caging of immigrants to the separation of children from parents to attempts to reverse gains in sexual rights globally, the US is no longer the human rights defending nation it used to be. Is it not only fair that ambassador Foote should clean his country’s closet first, before pointing a finger of injustice on Zambia?
This question though justified ignores the fact that most US ambassadors are career diplomats whose duty is to represent, and uphold their country’s constitution as opposed to promoting the interests of the sitting president. The cooperation of US ambassadors with the US. Congress in the impeachment investigations against President Trump (despite Trump’s directive not to do so) speaks to this point. In this regard, Amb. Foote has a moral responsibility to stand up for those on the margins–something that provoked ignorant PF cadres to foolishly demand his expulsion from the unjust Christian nation.
Madam Siliya’s statement sought to placate cadres on the one hand and to beg for forgiveness from the US ambassador on the other. Thus she wrongly employed the Westphalian accord in international relations theory (IRT); a pact that prohibits foreign nations from interfering in domestic politics. Based on this misapplication of IRT, she interprets the ambassador’s position as interference in what is purely a domestic matter.
It is not unusual for ambassadors to publicly support human rights in foreign lands. So I doubt if Hon. Siliya is aware that the non-interference protocol does not apply to human rights violations and war crimes. We live in the post-Westphalia era, in which foreign governments have the right to oppose human rights violations across borders. In ITR, it is thus within the ambassador’s duties to speak out against state-sponsored human rights abuses; in this case, the shameful and uncalled for imprisonment that even Madam Siliya could not logically defend.
Ignorance of international relations is poisonous. Many ignorant PF cadres don’t know that the US is behind the many developmental projects in the nation–from hospitals to Universities to roads to toilets to HIV/AIDS drugs to countless others. It is this reality that forced Hon. Dora Siliya to walk back the PF government’s irresponsible attacks on the heroic ambassador. She understands that without the US financial support, Zambia’s economy is dead–something that would rightly send many PF cadres and officials to jail following the 2021 elections. Hence the Lungu administration has no choice, but to kneel before this hero–the gay rights defending diplomat.
I take offense with Hon. Siliya’s presentation of the 15 years imprisonment as a matter of opinion–it is not. This is about human beings, whose lives are destroyed simply because of who they choose to love. We ought to understand that human rights are non-negotiable. Masses may see homosexuality as sinful, but to imprison innocent people due to their sexual orientation is simply wrong. We all want justice, and when justice is denied, we must oppose it at all costs. As an award-winning Indian economist, Amartya Sen’s human development theory concludes, we cannot develop holistically in the absence of freedoms. In short, upholding human rights is critical to human development. Behind Zambia’s underdevelopment is the ongoing misapplication of justice by our courts.
Rev. Kapya Kaoma