In 78 countries around the world, homosexuality or homosexual activity of some kind is a crime. 38 of these are in Africa. And Cameroon has the highest number of arrests for homosexuality in the world.
On 13 October 2016, there were mass arrests in a gay club in the capital, Yaounde. All of the arrestees have since been released. Some readers may have come across the incredibly moving film Call Me Kuchu, which documents the LGBT rights movement in Uganda. While the film was being made, the prominent LGBT activist and human rights campaigner David Kato was murdered by homophobes. There are people like David Kato all over the world, fighting for justice and rights for LGBT people.
Eric Ohena Lembembe was a giant in the African LGBT rights movement who was tortured and brutally murdered on 15 July 2013: a journalist and director of a charity and human rights organisation. Just weeks before his death he had said, “Anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity... a climate of hatred and bigotry... which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”
No photos were taken at the crime scene, and police lines of questioning were aimed at finding out the sexual orientations of Eric Lembembe and his colleagues. Three members of the CAMFAIDS, the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (where Lembembe worked) were detained for several days despite not being suspects or witnesses. Another person whose memory we need to preserve and honour is Roger Jean-Claude Mbede. He was arrested, tried and jailed in 2011 for homosexuality, having sent a text to another man saying “I am very much in love with you”. While Mbede was in prison, he developed health problems for which he had some treatment and provisional release on medical grounds. He died in January 2014 due to lack of medical treatment for hernia. It has been reported that his family stopped paying for his medical treatment as he was a “curse” and “we should let him die”.
In August 2013, anti-homosexuality vigilante mobs were roaming the streets of Yaounde and in the same year, offices of at least three LGBT-related NGOs were raided, attacked or firebombed. There are so many attacks on individuals by the state, the police and homophobes and transphobes that there is not space to mention them all. Cameroon is a dictatorship, ruled by President Paul Biya since 1982, who maintains power with fake elections every few years. The state endorses homophobia and transphobia, and abuse is rife in the prison system. Cameroon is marred by corruption and human rights abuses, and the struggle for democracy is ultimately integral to the struggle for LGBT+ rights.
The LGBT movement in Britain has made huge strides in the last few years, and while homophobia and transphobia are still pervasive, attitudes are shifting. It is vital that we build on this work and show our solidarity with our siblings in Cameroon and the world over. Organisations such as the Out and Proud: African LGBTI group and the Peter Tatchell Foundation are doing important work in creating links between LGBT people in Africa and Britain