Lembembe became known around the world as an “inspiring activist” who first worked as a journalist and later as executive director of CAMFAIDS, a Yaounde-based human rights organization. He not only gave a voice to the Cameroon gay community, he also exposed the violence and discrimination against members of the community. His loss will be felt amongst those who he inspired.
Yves Youmb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroon, a gay rights group based in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city, acknowledged Lembembe as one of the first activists in the country to stand up against the increased anti-gay prosecutions in Cameroon starting in 2005.
“It is a big loss for our community, and we are a bit scared about what can happen to us. He was one of the leaders of this community. So what can happen to the other leaders?”
The death will no doubt strike fear in other activists, but also exposes the reality that the violence against gays can continue. As Lembembe pointed out in a statement released on July 1:
“Unfortunately, a climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”
Lembembe’s death is the most high-profile killing of a African gay rights activist since 2011 when Uganda’s David Kato and South African lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza were murdered.
Police officials could not be reached and according to Neela Ghoshal, Human Rights Watch senior LGBT rights searcher, there is a lack of faith in Cameroon that anything further will be done because of “previous incidents” where police have “never gone beyond taking statements.”