The daily tally of prisoners in Yaoundé Central Prison, on the outskirts of Yaoundé, Cameroon, is on a chalkboard the size of a Ping-Pong table affixed to the wall. The prison administrator—we started calling him “the Governor”—tracks the inmates.This one is in the hospital, that one is being transferred, another set free.
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Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has been on a crusade to lock up LGBT people: working from a list of over 160 suspects, officials have made dozens of arrests.
On February 24, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay law that allows for life imprisonment of LGBT people and penalties for people who don’t report a person they know to be gay.
President Obama recently spoke out against Uganda’s anti-gay bill; Secretary of State John Kerry has decried the atrocities in Nigeria.
But Cameroon has been spared such an international spotlight, even though it has been quietly arresting, charging and imprisoning gay people under article 347 of the penal code for years. My companions during the visit are two members of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) and the Reverend Canon Albert Ogle, an Episcopalian priest, who heads the St.
Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation based in San Diego.
His organization’s mission is to provide technical support to grassroots organizations working on human rights, HIV/AIDS activism and healthcare in the Global South.
CAMFAIDS, which helps give a sense of community to Yaoundé’s gay population, is part of a coalition that coordinates a drop-in center providing basic preventative sexual healthcare to LGBT persons and runs the nascent prison outreach program.
Reverend Ogle has worked in Uganda over the past decade to build a coalition of inclusive faith groups, civil society organizations and healthcare providers to serve the LGBT community.
In hopes of growing their coalition, CAMFAIDS invited Ogle to Cameroon to observe the dire situation for LGBT people, which has been grossly under reported by most Western media outlets.
I asked Ogle why Cameroon hasn’t gotten the same international attention as Uganda or Nigeria.
He could only speculate—perhaps, he said, because Cameroon is predominantly Francophone and the West focuses on Anglophone countries, or perhaps because Cameroon offers little strategic value to the US—unlike Uganda, which is a relatively stabilizing force in the region.