The Culture Wars Come to Zambia

Intercepting the International Human Rights Agenda

About Kapya Kaoma

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with Zambian first President Kenneth Kaunda on February 25, 2012 in Lusaka, Zambia. During the visit, Ban urged African countries to respect gay rights. Joseph Mwenda/AFP/Getty Images

On a visit to Zambia in February 2012, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on African countries to stop treating LGBT people as less than human or as second class citizens. He explicitly asked Zambian lawmakers to stop discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

Zambia had just emerged from a heated election where politicians promoting anti-LGBT laws were defeated at the polls. But Ban’s words backfired and the speech fanned the anti-gay embers back into flame. Politicians and religious leaders rose up with anti-gay invective. The U.S. Christian Right-trained pastor and opposition leader Nevers Mumba challenged the newly elected Patriotic Front government to make clear its position on homosexuality. Member of Parliament Felix Mutati argued in the Lusaka Times that “the country must be allowed to be guided by biblical principles and the existing law against homosexuality…. Zambia is a Christian nation and Christianity is against homosexuality.” Elias Chipimo, Jr., the president of Zambia’s National Restoration Party, blamed Western countries and called on them to stop promoting homosexuality. “The insistence of foreign nations donating aid conditioned upon the active promotion of gay rights is nothing other than the battle for the soul of our nation and our way of life,” he said.1

“Mr. Ki-Moon’s [sic] statement was aimed at forcing Zambia to accept homosexuality,” said Rev. Pukuta Mwanza, executive director of The Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), in the London Evening Post. “His message of gay human rights…is not appropriate to Zambia because our laws do not allow homosexuality.”

Only two years before, Uganda’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill–the “Kill The Gays” bill– made international headlines. The global campaign to forestall the bill singled out the true instigators of this hateful legislation: U.S. Christian Right figures including the internationally prominent Baptist pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren; Scott Lively, the anti-gay, Holocaust revisionist; and Lou Engle, head of the revivalist group, The Call, and a leader in the right-wing New Apostolic Reformation movement. Warren, and later Lively, spoke out against the Ugandan bill, and the legislation was tabled soon after.

Many African leaders who followed American conservatives’ anti-gay teachings felt betrayed and abandoned.2 However, while Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was blocked, similar anti-gay measures passed in Malawi, Nigeria, and Liberia. Uganda reintroduced the anti-gay bill in each parliamentary session since 2009. The international outcry did little to improve the climate of tolerance of sexual diversity on the continent. In fact, the opposite happened: Amnesty International reports, “Instances of harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murders committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are increasing across sub-Saharan Africa.”3 The speed and fervor of African anti-gay sentiment in recent years has mobilized Western activists and politicians alike.

But almost every Western leader who has spoken out on behalf of the rights of LGBT people have faced the same backlash as Ban, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (see sidebar) and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron threatened to cut funding to African countries that persecute LGBT people during the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in Perth, Australia in October 2011. African religious and political leaders not only condemned Cameron’s move as immoral but used it as evidence to feed the myth that homosexuality is a new form of Western imperialism aimed at destroying Africa.4

Be it in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, or Malawi, the sentiment was the same. Both independent and government news media houses reacted with indignation: “Ghana tells off UK over threat on gays” (Daily Nation, Ghana); “Is the West still colonizing Continent,” (Tanzania Daily News, Tanzania); and “UK’s Cameron Touched Wrong Button on Gays” (The Observer, Uganda). “Amoral and horrendous culturally imperialistic,” said Mobhane Matinyi of Tanzania’s The Citizen of Cameron’s move. Most viewed the prime minister’s position as imposing homosexuality on the continent.

Many political leaders on the continent eagerly use these Westerners’ statements as a rallying point for votes, challenging the human rights efforts as neocolonial forays into African sovereignty.5 During the 2011 election in Zambia, politicians brought the issue of homosexuality, which had historically remained at the margins of political life, into a prominent role.

Imposing a “Christian Nation” on a Secular State

Zambia’s charged Christian Right politics didn’t start with the 2011 election. The late Frederick Chiluba, a Pentecostal influenced by the U.S. Christian Right and Zambia’s second president, declared the country a “Christian Nation” to be governed by biblical principles when he came to power in December 1991. He appointed many conservative Christian pastors to senior government positions.6

But Zambians’ embrace of this American version of Christianity can be traced back even earlier. Since its independence in 1964, Zambia had been a secular state. But in the last quarter of the twentieth century, Zambia’s separation between church and state began to dissolve. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. Christian Right partnered with young African religious leaders across sub-Saharan Africa in an attempt to “fight” the perceived communism of Pan-Africanist leaders, including Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda. During this time, the number of U.S.-founded churches on African soil increased, and U.S. conservative evangelists of all persuasions exported their teachings to Africa–many in concert with the Reagan administration. The CIA under the Reagan administration supported Christian conservatives in strategic countries to fight what they claimed were Marxist guerillas and terrorists. Conservative Christian missionaries went to Zambia, as well as Angola and South Africa; their charge was to stop the growth and spread of liberation theology.7

Backed by the CIA and funded by U.S. right-wing churches and other international organizations, Chiluba ousted Kaunda and within three months of coming to power declared Zambia a “Christian Nation.”8 Chiluba’s brand of Christianity was rooted in Pentecostalism, an evangelical movement that sees the Bible as inerrant, with heaven waiting for the born again and hell for those who are not saved. Pentecostals believe God’s spirit continues to work in the world through the gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and faith healing. Homosexuals are seen as possessed by demons who must be cast out. While many of these beliefs have spread to other Christian denominations as part of the charismatic revival of the past decades, Pentecostalism is traditionally in direct conflict with mainline churches, such as Anglican and Roman Catholic denominations.

Following Chiluba’s election in 1991 and his subsequent thanksgiving service, or what scholars Paul Gifford and Isabel Phiri call his “anointing service,” these beliefs found fertile ground in Zambia.Consequently, human rights for sexual minorities started to deteriorate.10

As Human Rights Watch noted on issues of LGBT rights, “Zambia is a center for the activities of North American-based fundamentalist Christian evangelists: their approaches and language were invoked in debates. Traditionally, Zambians were not anti-gay; in fact…one Zambian newspaper simply reprinted materials from Exodus International, an American anti-gay religious organization, to support the idea that “‘Christian counseling’ could cure homosexuals and return them to the fold of society.”11 U.S. evangelical media outlets such as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) took root and began broadcasting to a wide audience throughout the country. In 1995, U.S. Christian Right minister and media star Pat Robertson–himself a charismatic evangelical and former faith healer–called Chiluba the model president not only for “Africa but for the rest of the world.”12

Opposition to Homosexuality

Zambia is overwhelmingly Christian–the Pew Research Center lists it as 98 percent Christian, with 92 percent of both Zambian sand Zambian Christians opposing homosexuality. Even Zambia’s traditional and tribal leaders base their opposition to homosexuality on the Bible, a Western product. A tribal counselor to Chieftainess Lesa named Danny Kakunka told us, “I know that homosexuality is not a taboo among the Westerners. But our traditions are opposed to it. Even the Bible does not allow it.”

Unlike many African countries, only a somewhat small portion of Zambians are reported to still hold traditional beliefs. But even in countries where a larger portion of the populace follow traditional beliefs and incorporate those practices into Christianity, as in neighboring Malawi, traditional leaders root their understanding of homosexuality in the Bible. Take, for example, 80-year-old John Robert Mangani, the senior chief of the Kadewere-Chiradzulu district of Malawi, who could not find traditional reasons to oppose homosexuality; he relied solely on the Bible. Mangani told us, “Our culture does not accept same-sex marriages. It is against human dignity. Let us go to the book of Genesis: God created man and woman that they should live together. God knew that man has sperms and these sperms are aimed at fertilizing ova in a woman. If we hear that there are some people advocating for same-sex marriages, as chiefs, we are totally against. Frankly speaking, it is an abomination in our country.”
Paramount Chief Lundu concurred, “At the beginning God created Adam and his wife Eve, it is very strange to see that these people who are promoting homosexuality have wives and they do not encourage their children to follow homosexual acts. If we go to scriptures Genesis 19:1-22, it states how Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed due to homosexual acts. As chiefs we will not allow such acts to continue in our country, it is an abomination. We will not accept this. It is better to remain poor than to accept same-sex marriage.”

That even “traditionalists” echo U.S. Christian Right biblical interpretation would be no surprise to the authors of the 1996 book Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism. They noted that American Christian fundamentalism, the Protestant evangelical movement of militant biblical literalists, had taken hold across much of the developing world. In Africa, they argued, U.S. fundamentalists invested heavily in transforming Christianity on the continent. They warn that this fast-growing African Christianity “is fundamentalist and American. Through its [American Christian Right] resources, personnel and technology, it may be exerting influence on every bit as the colonial Christianity of the last century.”13

This American style of Christianity is especially evident in Zambian Christian attitudes towards homosexuality. Influential Zambian Bishop Joshua Banda of Northmead Assembly of God asserted that homosexuality was “alien to the Zambian society.” Despite his bishop title (a common honorific Africans ascribe to religious leaders), Banda practices an American form of Pentecostalism and is no stranger to anti-gay religious teachings–his doctoral advisor was Canon Dr. Chris Sugden, executive secretary of the breakaway group Anglican Mainstream International, which parted ways with the Episcopal Church USA over inclusion of sexual minorities. In addition to studying at Trans-Africa Theological College in Kitwe, Zambia, which was founded and funded by U.S. Christian conservatives, Banda is a graduate of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, a Pentecostal institution. While scholar Adriaan S. van Klinken associates Banda’s positions on homosexuality with “the church’s gender politics, specifically with regard to men and masculinity,” Banda’s anti-gay arguments are rooted in U.S. conservatism. In fact, Banda’s church is a product of a Western Christian mission, founded by the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (P.A.O.C.) Mission in the 1970s with no Zambian members.14 You can hear this influence within Banda’s sermons on Fatherhood in the 21st Century; as quoted by van Klinken:

Biblical fatherhood has in mind that a man, as God aimed him, in a family takes his role as a father, and a woman, as God has fashioned her, takes the role as a mother in the home, and the two become the package that bring into this life, by procreation, a family through the offspring. And nothing else exists besides that. And why should those who take up a so-called alternative life style still take on the role of a mother and a father if they are [of the] same sex, and then go into adoption of children? We can adopt children in families and that’s fine, but not in this fashion. Why do they want a different role when it is [the] same sex?…There is no substitute for fatherhood. It is rooted in biblical manhood, and biblical manhood is rooted in creation. And in creation God made them male and female. It is Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. In creation, we see a man and a woman in their respective roles.15

Banda is not alone–other U.S.-influenced Pentecostal leaders preach similar anti-gay positions. Bishop Joe Imakando of Bread of Life Church International and a frequent visitor to the United States says that “gays and lesbians had no room in society because Zambia had been declared a Christian nation.”16 International Fellowship for Christian Churches’ president Bishop Simon Chihana was reported to have said that “homosexuality will never be a human right issue because God created men to perform some special roles, which should only be done by men.”17 Chihana added that “homosexuality was not a human rights issue but a demonic right which was unacceptable” and that “his own findings showed that most people practising homosexuality were victims of the act who were finding it difficult to fully recover and were now being forced to perform the act on others.”18 Another clergyman, Bishop Bernard Nwaka of Living Waters Global Ministries, was quoted as saying, “Homosexuality or same-sex affairs are serious issues political parties should not ignore because Zambia is a Christian Nation.”19

Janet, a nurse at Lusaka West BB Clinic, told PRA that “from a Christian point of view,” same-sex relations are “very bad but, when we look at it from the other angle it is a special case, for example the South African case.” Here, she refers to Caster Ssemenya, the Olympic runner whose sexuality became the subject of widespread debate.20 “A person may appear to be female, but the hormonal makeup is that of man. This simply means that though appearance may be of a woman, the sexual feelings will be towards a fellow woman and general behavior will be masculine.” Asked whether homosexuality is a Western import, Janet said, “Not really because it is everywhere. Some people can be attracted to the same sex . It started from Western–yes–but we not blame them.” Janet still blames the West.

Homophobia as a Political Tool

Though religious leaders in Zambia have embraced American anti-gay rhetoric, it is Zambian politicians who have taken up the anti-gay mantle for political gain. In early 2011, conservative Christian politicians challenged the then-opposition leader of the Patriotic Front Michael Sata as being pro-gay and therefore not fit to rule a Christian nation.21 Then-president Rupiah Banda (no relation to Bishop Joshua Banda) pulled out the neo-colonial card and told Zambians they should blame the Western aid community for homosexuality. “Some sections of the donor community had embarked on a campaign aimed at making Zambians believe that homosexuality was a human rights issue,” Banda said.22 Late Vice President George Kunda ratcheted up the election-year gay baiting and called on the public to report LGBT persons to the police. “If you have information about such people, report them to the law enforcement agencies. There are also some people who are bisexual and they marry to cover up their activities, but, at the end of the day, we know them.”23

While Kunda accepted that gays are part of the Zambian community, he nevertheless argued homosexuality was “not part of the Christian norm”24 and “Zambian laws are tailored [to] Christian values the country practices.”25 Former President Kenneth Kaunda, widely respected in the international community, argued that homosexuality was against Bible and therefore “against God’s commandments.” He called on leaders to “advocate for laws that prohibited such wicked vices especially that Zambia was a Christian Nation.”26

Despite politicians’ attempts to foil their opposition with anti-gay rhetoric, Michael Sata and the Patriotic Front came to power in September 2011 and the politics of sexuality in Zambia died down. However, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the country resurrected the vitriol. Once again you heard the anti-LGBT claims of the pastors. “The 2010 draft constitution specifically recommended that ‘Marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited,'” said Mwanza of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia.27 Martin Musaluke, the vice president of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) similarly insisted that “respecting gay rights in Zambia is impossible because homosexuality is a criminal offence under the current laws.”28

Another sign of U.S. Christian Right influence in the political arena is the use of parliament to enact anti-gay laws. The Uganda “Kill The Gays” bill, first introduced in 2009, revealed this practice–and Zambian conservative Christians have leapt on the bandwagon, using the country’s constitution. Zambia’s current constitution, specifically its anti-gay portions, can be viewed as a colonial product with its condemnation of what it calls “carnal knowledge.” Despite three constitutional reviews (1973, 1991, 1996), British colonial laws prohibiting homosexuality remain on the books in Zambia. But that wasn’t good enough, so, in 2005, the Parliament amended the penal code so it would read, “Any person who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature [or] permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature; is liable to imprisonment for a term not less than 15 years and may be liable to imprisonment for life.”29

The struggle over LGBT rights continues to rage in constitutional battles. A draft constitution proposed in 2011 would discriminate against LGBT persons, but Zambia’s 2012 draft constitution protects all citizens from discrimination. Article 27 (1) of the draft constitution states: “A person has the right not to be discriminated against, directly or indirectly, on any grounds including birth, race, sex, origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, pregnancy, health, marital, ethnic, tribal, social or economic status.”30 The draft constitution also prohibits the passing any law or “provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.”31 While this seems to safeguard LGBT persons, it is likely that the new constitution will uphold anti-gay laws that are of colonial origins.

The general public has picked up on politicians’ and pastors’ appeals to their national pride in claiming that homosexuality is a sign of Western encroachment on the purity of Zambian Christian life. Chikumbi Ndolesha, a biomedical student in Ndola, told us that homosexuality is not part of Zambian culture. “It is a Western import because, us Zambians, we tend to imitate things that we see on TV, read in magazines, and the things we see in movies. We think it is a normal way of life and we think it is fancy to come across one. In the long run we are adopting [the] wrong culture.” Another interviewee added that “America is not governed by Christian values, it is a secular state and as such would want to encourage other states, especially in Zambia, in particular, to promote it–America sees nothing wrong with practicing homosexuality and is now promoting it here in Zambia so that homosexuals are spared.” Heath Hammumba, a laboratory technician in Ndola, argued that homosexuality is copied from the West. From the Christian perspective, he insists homosexuality “is wrong in the eyes of God because God created man and women for a purpose. If it was right, God would have created one sex, either male or just females.”

This deep-seated view of LGBT rights as a neocolonial import puts Westerners hoping to stand in solidarity with those under threat for their sexuality in a difficult spot. Christian conservatives manage to use their frequently tone-deaf, public condemnations against them, endangering the very people they intend to defend. Threats of punitive measures from the United States [see sidebar] and the United Kingdom legitimize religious conservatives’ contention that homosexuality is a Western import. Human rights advocates–rather than U.S. Christian Right actors–are cast as neocolonialists.

This dynamic raises questions about whether Western diplomacy might be practiced more effectively away from the lights and cameras. Diplomats cannot back down when they suggest sanctioning countries that institutionalize homophobia–they can be too easily ignored.

For their part, U.S. human rights and LGBT advocacy communities should build good relationships with African diplomats so that they can start the dialog from a stronger position. Westerners can support African leadership by providing them with concrete resources–including schooling or research support. They have already shown that it can be highly effective to challenge the U.S. Christian Right individuals and groups who fan the flames of homophobia. Exposing their true neocolonial roots is essential in order to defend LGBT people throughout sub-Saharan Africa.


U.S. Funds and the Push for LGBT Rights

In a major speech given in December 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton linked foreign aid to gay rights, defining “human rights as gay rights and gay rights as human rights.”32 The inherent threat to withhold aid from nations that persecute sexual minorities was certain to provoke a backlash, but could have also produced some results. Just two days after Secretary Clinton’s address, Malawi’s then-Justice Minister Ephraim Chiume, announced that the country would begin reviewing its laws banning homosexuality.33

However, the Obama administration soon clarified that the new directive to defend LGBT rights would not result in withdrawal of aid; instead, the United States would grant additional monies to empower LGBT communities.34 The government of Malawi responded by dropping its review and resuming its public condemnation of homosexuality. In backing away from its threat to cut aid, the Obama administration got the worst of both worlds–the predictable flak, without any progress on policy. With its announcement of a $3 million global equality fund for civil society organizations working on LGBT rights across the world,35 the administration somehow reinforced the conservative narrative that LGBT groups and the West are flooding the continent with money to impose foreign sexual mores onto the continent. If the Obama administration’s commitment to LGBT rights everywhere is to bear fruits, there is need to demand stiffer penalties for countries that have systematically abused sexual minorities.


1-Interview, MUVI TV, March 1, 2012.

2-Jodi Jacobson, “Martin Ssempa Responds to Rick Warren on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill,” RHRealityCheck.

3-Amnesty International, “Africa: End discrimination against LGBTI on international day against homophobia,” May 16, 2012.

4-“Cameron threat to dock some UK aid to anti-gay nations,” BBC News, October 31, 2012

5-Amnesty International, “Africa: End discrimination against LGBTI on international day against homophobia.”

6-The presidential declaration speech was centered on the following biblical passages: John 14:6; Jeremiah 7:23; Luke 22:20; 2 Chronicles 7:14; and 2 Kings 23:3. “The Presidential Speech,” 29.12.91. Times of Zambia 1.1.92; 9.1.95.

7-Jeffrey Marishane, “Prayer, Profit and Power: US Religious Right and Foreign Policy,” Review of African Political Econom (1991), 19(52), 73-86.

8-Frederick T. J Chiluba, Democratisation Process in Zambia, Masters Thesis (Warwick: Warwick University, 1994), 100.

9-For a detailed discussion, see Paul Gifford, African Christianity: Its Public Role, (London: Hurst & Company, 1998), 197; Isabel Phiri, “President Frederick Chiluba: Evangelicals and Democracy in a “Christian Nation,”” in Evangelical Christianity  and Democracy in Africa, Terence O. Ranger, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 95-129, 102.

10-“More Than a Name: State-Sponsored Homophobia and its Consequences in Southern Africa,” Human Rights Watch, May 13, 2012.

11-“More Than a Name,” Human Rights Watch.

12-“The 700 Club,” Christian Broadcasting Network, April 25, 1995. While Isaac Phiri claims that Chiluba invited Pat Robertson
to Zambia, Chiluba’s interview was pre-recorded and aired on April 25, 1995 on “The 700 Club.” Isaac Phiri muddies the circumstance. See: Isaac Phiri, Proclaiming Political Pluralism: Churches and Political Transitions in Africa (Westport: Praeger, 2001), 44.

13-Steve Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan D. Rose, Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism (New York: Routledge, 1996), 178.

14-Northmead Assembly of God, “About Us.”

15-Adriaan S. van Klinken, “The Homosexual as the Antithesis of ‘Biblical Manhood’? Heteronormativity and Masculinity Politics in Zambian Pentecostal Sermons,” Journal of Gender and Religion in Africa, vol.. 17, no. 2 (December 2011), 126-142.

16-“Channel funds to projects, not gay rights, donors urged,” Lusaka Times, May 7, 2010.

17-“Former president Kaunda says no to homosexuality,” State House, October 21, 2010. Originally published in Times of Zambia, October 21, 2010.

18-Former president Kaunda says no to homosexuality,” State House.

19-Former president Kaunda says no to homosexuality,” State House.

20-Semenya finally able to focus on Olympic gold after three-year nightmare: l

21-“Veep challenges Sata, HH over gays,” Lusaka Times, January 1, 2011. published in Zambia Daily Mail.

22-Former president Kaunda says no to homosexuality,” State House.

23-“Gay and lesbianism illegal – Kunda,” Lusaka Times, March 18, 2011.
18/36366/ “The Vice President said that Zambian laws are tailored by the Christian values the country practices.”

24-“Kunda warns homosexuals,” Times of Zambia, March 21, 2009.

25-“Gay and lesbianism illegal – Kunda,” Lusaka Times.

26-Former president Kaunda says no to homosexuality,” State House.

27-Republic of Zambia, National Constitutional Conference, 2010: 222.

28-“Gay Rights Impossible in Country,” Times of Zambia, February 28, 2012.

29-Zambia’s Penal Code Act.

30-Republic of Zambia, First Draft Constitution of the Republic of Zambia, April 30, 2012, 14/

31-Republic of Zambia, First Draft Constitution of the Republic of Zambia, April 30, 2012, 14.

32-Igor Volsky and Zack Ford, “Sec. Clinton To UN: ‘Gay Rights Are Human Rights, And Human Rights Are Gay Rights,'” Think Progress, Dec 6, 2011. For the full speech of Secretary Clinton, see

33-BBC, “Malawi to review homosexuality law,”,8 December 2011,

34-Exporting the Anti-Gay Movement: How sexual minorities in Africa became collateral damage in the U.S. culture wars.

35-Igor Volsky and Zack Ford, “Sec. Clinton To UN: ‘Gay Rights Are Human Rights, And Human Rights Are Gay Rights,” Think Progress, Dec 6, 2011. For the full speech of Secretary Clinton, see

Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma served as PRA's Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher from 2008-2018. He was the original researcher to expose the ties between U.S. right-wing evangelicals and the anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda, and has testified before Congress and the United Nations. He is the author of "Globalizing the Culture Wars" and "Colonizing African Values," and appears as an expert voice in the 2013 documentary God Loves Uganda. He received his doctorate in Ethics from Boston University.