What you need to know:
- The once bustling Zambian capital, for instance, has since lost the sheen of copper dollars and is literally heaving under the burden of a near-impossible Chinese debt even as it struggles to rise from the ashes of years of political misrule.
For Kamala Harris, the week-long Africa tour is partly a reconnection with her childhood memories on the continent.
At age five, the US vice president and her baby sister Maya crawled and played in the then fiery-red, copper-rich soils of Lusaka, Zambia, in the late 1960s.
She stayed with her maternal grandfather, P. V Gopalan, a civil servant who had been dispatched by the Indian government to help Zambia manage an influx of refugees from Southern Rhodesia — current day Zimbabwe — which had just declared independence from Britain.
Today, Harris will meet a different kind of Lusaka, a much-matured city politically, economically and socially— and far removed from her faint and tender childhood memories.
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The once bustling Zambian capital, for instance, has since lost the sheen of copper dollars and is literally heaving under the burden of a near-impossible Chinese debt even as it struggles to rise from the ashes of years of political misrule.
But not everything has been moving with the ticking arm of the clock in Northern Rhodesia, as the former British colony was once called. Notably, on the family unit and gender rights, an agenda the US is openly pushing on this trip, Harris and her delegation are confronted with a city and a nation stuck in time.
Besides countering the growing political and economic influence of Moscow and Beijing on the continent, Washington is on a mission to promote human rights— including the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) people.
In her speech in Ghana, for instance, Harris said she felt “very strongly” about supporting the development of LGBTQ+ rights in Africa.
“I will also say that this is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue and that will not change,” she said on Monday in joint press conference with President Nana Akufo-Addo.
“A great deal of work in my career has been to human rights issues and equality issues across the board including, as it relates, to the LGBTQ+ community.”
But like many African countries— including Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya— Zambia has refused to decriminalise homosexuality and promote the rights of LGBTQ+ persons and their communities.
The law that criminalises homosexuality in the southern Africa nation was enacted in November 1931 as part of the colonial state’s general tendency to adopt legislation from the London.
After getting independence in 1964, successive Zambian governments have preserved it on the statutes as part of “their religion or culture” and deeply conservative Zambians, like many Africans, believe that homosexuality is a Western phenomenon and an imposition on their values system.
Unlike Akufo-Addo who gave assurance of amendments to an inti-LGBTQ+ Bill before Ghanaian Parliament, Harris’ host in Lusaka, President Hakainde Hichilema, has on many occasions reiterated Zambia’s stance against homosexuality, assuring the nation that his government will continue to uphold the law forbidding such “unnatural acts.”
Speaking to over 400 clergy members in Chingola on March 14, for instance, the president emphasized that Zambia would remain “a Christian nation” as declared by his predecessor Fredrick Chiluba, and that this is integral to the country’s identity.
He affirmed that the constitution is clear on same-sex sexual relations, and that he intends to uphold the provisions of the law and norms of Zambians “who have rejected LGBTQI activities”.
“Zambia is a Christian nation, it’s clear! … I have been following what is happening in the country and to say that the new dawn government is promoting lesbian rights or gay rights that is not right,” he said on September 19, 2022.
“We have said it before in opposition and now in government that we do not support gay, lesbian rights.”
And he is not alone. The country’s opposition and religious leaders have taken a similar tough stand, resisting pressure to follow the route taken by some Southern African nations.
There are 69 countries that have laws that criminalise homosexuality, and nearly half of these are in Africa.
South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Seychelles, Mozambique and Lesotho are among the few African countries that have legalised same-sex sexual relationships.
On Monday, 48 hours to Harris’ address, 50 Zambian opposition MPs started organising a demonstration to speak out against the democracy summit, claiming that the Western participants were looking to use the platform to promote LGBTQ issues in Zambia, which they say undermines the values and cultural norms in the southern African nation.
The lawmakers took issue with the other countries co-hosting the event with the US— Costa Rica, the Netherlands and South Korea— claiming they are notorious for promoting the homosexuality agenda.
“We want you (President Hichilema) to make it clear whether you will restate this position when the visits of US Vice President Kamala Harris and also that during that conference you will ensure that you make our position known. Especially that you are co-hosting with countries that espouse these liberal policies,” said leader of opposition in Parliament Brian Mundubile.
Zambia is among dozens of African states that have refused to repeal laws outlawing homosexuality, with some such as Uganda amending their statutes to include, harsher and stiffer penalties.
The Parliament of the conservative East African country on March 22 adopted a new law banning identifying as LGBTQ+ and related identities. The law also targets the media and civil societies perceived to promote LGBTQ+ agenda.
The adoption of the Bill, which is awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni, a man recently described gay people as "deviants", has drawn strong criticism from Washington, with the Joe Biden administration warning of possible sanctions against Kampala.
The White House on March 23 warned Uganda of possible economic "repercussions" if a law imposing severe new restrictions on LGBTQ rights takes effect.
"We would have to take a look at whether or not there might be repercussions that we would have to take, perhaps in an economic way, should this law actually get passed and enacted," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Washington is "watching this real closely."
Financial repercussions "would be really unfortunate because so much of the economic assistance that we provide is health assistance," he said.
The Global Fund, from which most of the African countries benefit, has been advised to cut off aid to states seeking to criminalise homosexuality.
The laws discriminating and criminalising LGBTQ+, US and its allies say, go against the fund’s sustainable development goal of leaving no one behind.
At a reproductive justice forum held in Lusaka on Tuesday, feminists drawn from around Africa advocated for a more liberal approach to the LGBTQ+ legislation, saying the minority group is entitled to enjoyment of human rights like any other person.
They called on religious, cultural and political leaders to be more open and accommodative of the LGBTQ+ and create safe spaces for them. They stressed that some African laws are hypocritical in nature, accommodating punishable crimes yet criminalising human rights.