LGBT+ rights ambassador Jean-Marc Berthon will not make the scheduled trip to Yaoundé at the end of this month, the communications department of the French Embassy in Cameroon announces. The visit was canceled due to the outcry over his scheduled 5-day visit to Cameroon.
The visit was just "to discuss with Cameroonian authorities without any attempt of imposing our values,” explains the French Embassy in Cameroon, visibly surprised by the protest caused by the announcement of this visit.
Thierry Marchand, the French ambassador to Cameroon, requested an audience from Lejeune Mbella Mbella, Cameroon's Minister of External Relations, on behalf of Jean-Marc Berthon for the morning of June 29. This request was denied.
"It is worth recalling that the Cameroonian government's position on definitions of gender, sexual orientation, and sexual identity in Cameroon is clear and undebatable. It is not possible to speak of LGBT+ people in Cameroon. The fact is considered a common law offense as per article 347-1 of the law of July 12, 2016, on the Penal Code of Cameroon," Lejeune Mbella Mbella indicated in a letter he sent to Paul Atanga Nji, the Minister of Territorial Administration.
Lejeune Mbella Mbella also adds that the government has reservations about the conference debate on the definitions of gender, sexual orientation, and sexual identity scheduled at the French Institute of Cameroon (IFC). This conference debate is presented as the main goal of Jean-Marc Berthon's announced visit to Cameroon.
In response to this opposition, the French diplomatic representation in Yaoundé stated that the aim of the visit by the French ambassador for LGBT+ rights was not to promote homosexuality. Even less to create controversy, as is currently the case. According to the same source, this happened because of the "malicious" exploitation of Thierry Marchand's correspondence to Lejeune Mbella Mbella, which was unwittingly leaked on social media.
The outcry against the LGBT+ rights ambassador was sparked by the said letter. To express the opposition of Cameroonians, several personalities and even academics such as historian Joël Narcisse Meyolo took to the stage. He compared Jean-Marc Berthon's announced visit to a provocation. A campaign to say "no to LGBT+ promotion in Cameroon" quickly flourished on social networks with the slogan “Brethon reste chez toi (Berthon stay at home)” being the main watchword.
The protest sometimes rekindled anti-French sentiment, as political scientist Njoya Moussa has already pointed out. "At a time when China is coming with infrastructure projects, India with agricultural projects, Japan with elementary school, Germany with high-level university cooperation, Russia with cutting-edge security cooperation, all France offers us is the promotion of homosexuality! And afterward, they'll be surprised at the 'anti-French sentiment',” he wrote.
With the protests in Cameroon, Jean-Marc Berthon is suffering one of his major setbacks since his appointment in November 2022. When creating that position, French President Emmanuel Macron wanted a spokesperson that will campaign on behalf of France for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality and trans identity. For that, he chose one of his advisors, who for a time headed the cabinet of Marlène Schiappa, the former French Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship.
Jean-Marc Berthon's mission also includes coordinating the work of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs to promote LGBT+ rights worldwide and protect them against discrimination. On his Twitter account, before all the fuss, he welcomed the fact that Estonia had just authorized same-sex marriage. "A wonderful light" from the Baltic, the French diplomat commented.
Earlier this year, in an interview on France 24, he said that the battle was still far from won. After all, 67 countries around the world still penalize homosexuality. What's more, generally speaking, 50% of LGBT+ people already admit to having been verbally abused, even in France.
Michel Ange Nga