Time to Speak Up


Cameroon flag
Eric Ohena Lembembe, Gay Rights Activist, Tortured And Killed

This is the headline of an article by Robbie Corey-Boulet that caught my attention, especially during the honeymoon of the victories that the LGBT community has been celebrating since the US Supreme Court rulings. Sometimes we forget how awful things are in other parts of the world.

DAKAR, Senegal -- A prominent gay rights activist in Cameroon was tortured and killed just weeks after issuing a public warning about the threat posed by "anti-gay thugs," Human Rights Watch said.

One friend said Lembembe's neck and feet looked broken and that he had been burned with an iron.

I started to get curious about something. Cameroon. Is this the same Cameroon that I read somewhere was getting billions of dollars in US foreign aid?

Where is it exactly?And what part do we play in their existence. If we have any sway over them, maybe it's time we start using it. So I Googled U.S. foreign aid -- okay, first I Googled a map of Cameroon to get my geography right, then I found the foreign aid numbers.


It's hard to get a real grasp on what we're really spending and even harder to know why. According to the U.S. official development assistance office, the most recent numbers are from 2007 and 2008. In the first of those two years, we officially gave $1.908 billion in aid to Cameroon. We dropped that nearly three-quarters to a mere, $524 Million in 2008. Maybe we need to drop it again, or see to it that it's being put to good use -- educating the people there.

Lembembe was among the most prominent activists in one of Africa's most hostile countries for sexual minorities. First as a journalist and later as executive director of CAMFAIDS, a Yaounde-based human rights organization, he documented violence, blackmail and arrests targeting members of Cameroon's gay community.

Homosexuality is punishable by prison terms of up to five years in Cameroon, and the country prosecutes more people for gay sex than any other in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Human Rights Watch.

We have to start holding countries accountable for human rights if they want our handouts.  From a strategic position, Cameroon offers us little. But from a human standpoint, it offers us a lot. It's a chance to show the world that even small countries matter. But they also have to treat their citizens with respect and dignity or the money for friendship will stop.