Zambia and the United States of America have been friends for many years and their co-operation has extended to different areas of both countries. This is a fact that is not in dispute and must never be taken for granted by either party.
For instance, Zambia’s health sector is the biggest beneficiary of the United States support that totals $4 billion in the last 15 years. A number of our people today are receiving anti-retroviral treatment because of this support from the United States government and the Zambian government has shown appreciation in many ways by ensuring that those who should benefit from this help do so. Additionally, the government is promoting a campaign to have all Zambians know their HIV status and this has had the Head of State in the lead. This was demonstrated at the commemoration of this year’s World AIDS Day that falls on December 1 when President Edgar Lungu and his wife, Madam Esther, took HIV tests to lead the way in voluntary testing and counselling.
“By knowing your HIV status and being on treatment, which prevents transmission, the only difference between HIV-negative and HIV-positive today is the medicine,” United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote said on Monday in a statement issued after he held a press briefing that addressed a wide range of issues on his country’s co-operation with Zambia.
He added that “the American people have provided more than $4 billion in HIV/AIDS support in the last 15 years. Working closely with the Ministry of Health, we currently have well over 1 million Zambians on life-changing anti-retroviral medicine, touching close to half of the families in the country… Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination remain as our biggest mutual challenges in eradicating the AIDS epidemic. Discriminatory and homophobic laws, under the false flags of Christianity and culture, continue to kill innocent Zambians, many of whom were born with the virus. Your citizens are terrified of being outed as HIV-positive, because of the inaccurate and archaic associations between HIV and homosexuality.”
This statement has revealed that fact that we still have a lot of work to do to end stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. There are people who will be put off from undergoing an HIV test because of how those living with the virus today are being treated. Sometimes, ill treatment actually comes from the healthcare providers themselves where they have disregarded the need for privacy when dealing with people living with HIV.
Consequently, the Ministry of Health should take this up and educate all its workers in departments that handle people living with HIV and emphasise the importance of confidentiality and respect for human rights of those seeking assistance. We have heard of people abandoning treatment because of lack of confidentiality by some health workers. And truth be told, the bulk of our citizens are still uncomfortable with coming out in the open about their HIV statuses and no health worker has the right to disclose using their privileges. As long as this is not dealt with sooner rather than later, stigma and discrimination will continue.
Ambassador Foote, in his statement, also said “my job as U.S. Ambassador is to promote the interests, values, and ideals of the United States” and that “Zambia is one of the largest per-capita recipients of U.S. assistance in the world, at $500 million each year”. He added that “in these countries where we contribute resources, this includes partnering in areas of mutual interest, and holding the recipient government accountable for its responsibilities under this partnership”.
Accountability for funds is a key issue that any government cannot ignore and every donor has the right to demand it from recipient countries. And when this is demanded, that particular government should provide whatever information may be requested. What is important, however, is to ensure that the process for demanding accountability is done in the most sober manner that will not leave the other party feeling humiliated or insulted, for lack of a better term.
“The U.S. government is far from perfect”, Ambassador Foote said, “and we always welcome feedback, including from Zambia through your embassy in Washington”. He made mention of the fact that if they didn’t welcome feedback, “we might not have changed our repugnant laws allowing slavery and other human rights contraventions, historical misdeeds for which I passionately apologize”.
No government in this world is surely perfect and that is true for our government as well. It is because of this fact that even if a government is not perfect, respect for its leaders is necessary.
Zambia currently faces a wide range of challenges that it cannot sort out on its own – energy shortages, climate change effects, food insecurity, etc, which Ambassador Foote acknowledged and said, “I agree that we should be working to improve critical issues like food insecurity and the electricity shortage, but Americans can’t do it alone, without cooperation from your government. The U.S. brought energy experts to work with Zambian ministries for over two years, and we jointly developed a plan to reform the sector and ensure better electricity delivery to the people.”
A government that thinks it can exist in isolation and make it deceives itself. Even with all the accolades of America being a great country, it still needs other countries like China that not long ago lent it a huge amount of money. Equally, America needs countries like Zambia just as much as Zambia needs America.
Therefore, any disagreements between the two countries will only work to the disadvantage of both. Most importantly, donor countries and their representatives must not discard the established lines of communication when there are matters of serious concern, as a show of respect for the recipient country and government. Flexing some muscle for each other takes away the integrity of diplomacy which we all know comes with strict etiquette.
It is clear that the current purported breakdown in diplomatic relations has more to do with Zambia’s punitive homosexual laws than it has with lack of accountability of donor funds. We can however agree that in as much as Zambia is free as a sovereign nation to abhor the practice of homosexuality, it would be more beneficial to an ordinary child in rural Zambia if government were to be as strict in enforcing anti corruption legislation as it is when it comes to homosexual offences between consenting adults in their privacy.