Anti-gay campaign gets brutal

Eric Lembembe. (Supplied)

Eric Lembembe. (Supplied)

 In this, one of the last pieces he wrote, on July 2, he speaks of an attack on his organisation's offices earlier this month

At the Access Centre of Alternatives-Cameroon in Douala, life returns to normal. Gradually. New furniture arrives.
Construction is under way. Employees, though still frightened, go about their business. From time to time, visitors arrive from partner organisations, bringing messages of encouragement and support.

"By next week, normal activities will resume. For now, we are a construction site," says Franz Mananga, administrative and financial director of the centre, which serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, offering health information and medical care, especially for those who are HIV positive.

Mananga says that at about 7am on June 26 the staff saw flames coming from the paramedics' and counsellors' offices. The local fire brigade failed to respond to the blaze. Neighbours paid no attention. The centre was consumed by the fire.

Although no one was killed, most of the equipment (desks, chairs, computers, fans, medical records and cooking utensils) was completely destroyed.

According to a statement released by Alternatives-Cameroon, there are "strong suspicions about the criminal origin of this disaster", which occurred not long after burglaries at the offices of Maximilienne Ngo Mbe  (on June 1) and Michel Togué (on June 16).

Ngo Mbe is the executive director of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa. Togué is one of the few lawyers who defends sexual minorities in Cameroon.

Everything suggests that a ­co-ordinated homophobic campaign is behind these events.

Alternatives-Cameroon does not intend to give up its fight for gay people because of this incident. As police continue to investigate the origin and cause of the fire, the organisation is considering how to improve security.

But activists say they have not yet figured out a strategy for confronting this wave of attacks against defenders of LGBTI rights. One obstacle is that many activists are currently travelling abroad. Another is that LGBTI rights organisations have not joined together in a coalition either in Yaoundé or in Douala.

Mananga says it's time to think about a shared strategy: "Today, Alternatives-Cameroon was the target. Tomorrow, it might be another organisation in Cameroon,  or individual activists."

Serge Douomong Yotta, executive director of the LGBTI rights advocacy group, Affirmative Action in Yaoundé, agrees, describing the lack of security experienced by defenders of gay rights as "disturbing".

"On July 1 we issued a press release with Human Rights Watch and five other organisations, in which we strongly condemned the attacks in Yaoundé and Douala and recommended that criminal charges be brought against these [people] … who are depriving many Cameroonians of medical care through the destruction of the Access Centre."

State officials show no signs that they are aware of the problem. No one has denounced the attacks. No one has visited the scenes of the fire and the burglaries.

Alternatives-Cameroon has called on the government to denounce the attacks and live up to its responsibilities, but, says the group: "We have not received even a phone call from state officials with whom we work ... The Access Centre is responsible for providing ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] to people stigmatised on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is absurd and despicable that those in charge of these issues [such as government departments] cannot respond." –

Eric Lembembe was the executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for Aids and an ­outspoken gay rights activist. His body was found on July 15. He had allegedly been tortured before being killed

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