“Stephane is dead!” announces a voice on the phone.
“Excuse me. Are you kidding or what?”
The call came from Philip, a well-known gay activist in Douala, Cameroon, who phoned a friend in Yaoundé to tell him the shocking news that Stephane Tchakam had died.
Very early, around 6 a.m. Monday, Aug. 13, similar phone calls and text messages awoke many in Cameroon and elsewhere. No one could sleep after hearing the news. Everyone had to double-check by making more phone calls, by looking online, by signing in to Facebook, where Stephane Tchakam had been a constant presence,
The news was quickly confirmed. “Tara” or “Pa’a Cha,” as he was called by many of his gay friends in Douala, was in fact dead.
Friends, acquaintances, colleagues and relatives gathered at the morgue of Douala General Hospital, where the body of the talented journalist lay. Faces bore a defeated expression, Eyes stared into empty space. Some cried inconsolably. They had lost the man of a thousand different hats — journalist, man of culture, and activist in the fight for LGBTI rights throughout Africa in general and Cameroon in particular,
Stephane, news editor of the Cameroonian newspaper Le Jour, died in Douala after 15 days of treatment for malaria and severe anemia. He was hospitalized, treated and released, relapsed and was rushed back to the hospital. He died there around 5:30 a.m. Monday. Later in the day, his body was sent to Yaoundé, where his family lives.
Talented journalist, tireless gay activist
“Everyone is affected,” said Nkwebo Denis, one of Stephane’s colleagues at Le Jour.. “Stephane was a great contribution to this journal, not only as an editor, but also and above all as a journalist and reporter. Because of him, many young people love journalism and have developed a passion for this profession. He lent a hand to everyone.”
His death caused utter dismay in gay circles as well as among the press corps in Cameroon, where his talent and style stood out.
Steave Nemande, a co-founder of the health and human rights group Alternatives Cameroon, who met him in 2005, remembers Stephane as “someone very cultured and full of joie de vivre.”
“He was a first-class advocate for LGBTI causes. He was a founding member of Alternatives Cameroon, where he served as board member and treasurer for many years,” Nemande said. “He deserves the credit for the recent trend toward objective treatment of homosexuality in the press in Cameroon, especially in the newspapers he edited. This is a big loss for gay rights activists. Many people will remember him as very friendly and warm, a person who was always ready to help a young colleague.”
Those are helpful characteristics, especially for homosexuals in Cameroon, who live in such a hostile environment.
Similar praise came from Parfait Behen, another friend of Stephane who is currently the president of Alternatives Cameroon.
“As a writer, Stephane always tried to improve the living conditions of gays. That’s a courageous thing to do in an environment as opposed to LGBTI people as ours. His loss is a disaster for us because he was a gentleman who was always approachable, someone we could confide in without fear. A daring, battle-hardened veteran, he was a humanist who was afraid of nothing. He was one of the first journalists to take the risk, despite all that could happen, of writing an article in favor of homosexuals in the Cameroonian newspapers, including the national bilingual daily Cameroon Tribune and later in Le Jour. He was the voice of the voiceless. His memory will live forever in the memories of homosexuals in Cameroon. “
Yves Yomb, another member of Alternatives Cameroon, still in shock, remembers Stephane as his “big brother” and his “permanent adviser.”
“We have lost a pillar in the defense of the rights of sexual minorities. We relied on him to advance the homosexual cause in Cameroon. Now that he is gone, what will become of us?” Yomb asked.
Stephane’s example inspired people to become leaders in the quest for gay rights — for example, among the new organizations that have arisen in Yaoundé, the political capital of the country, to confront HIV / AIDS and human rights violations.
Jules Eloundou, president of Humanity First in Cameroon, speaks of Stephane’s death as a “huge, brutal loss that threatens to annihilate us.”
“With his international reputation as a journalist,” Eloundou said, “we knew we could count on him. He was so open that his battle inspired us to walk in his footsteps in the fight for the rights of sexual minorities.”
Dominique Menoga, the president of the Cameroon Foundation for AIDS, remembers Stephane as someone who knew how to strike a balance between his profession and the fight for gay rights. He called him “Massa” (another nickname for Stephane) and knew him for nearly 10 years.
“When Stephane wrote an article on LGBTI issues, he did it with such aggressiveness, such passion, that was admired in the community. He was not shy about speaking his mind. I still remember his article about the 200 million CFA francs granted by the European Union to a Cameroonian association [the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Homosexuals ]. Stephane was eager to get things done for gays in this country, so his death is particularly poignant. He will be missed by all of us forever.”
A graduate of the School of Science, Technology and Communication (ESSTIC) in Yaoundé, Stephane began his journalism career in the late ‘90s at the Mutations newspaper, then moved to the government daily, the Cameroon Tribune. For eight years, he worked as its chief communications officer for the Littoral region. In 2009, he resigned from that newspaper to work for Le Jour as a reporter for the Douala desk. In January 2012, he began work as news editor for Le Jour based in Yaoundé.
A versatile journalist, “Tchaky” also worked in broadcast media, In 2010 he co-hosted a local TV talk show, “Tonight or Never” and the show “Afro Beats” on Nostalgia FM.
His passion for music and singing was known to all, though sometimes it not always understood or shared. The creative works of African artists such as Rokia Traore, Angelique Kidjo, Peter Akendengue, Marie Lissom, Kareyce Fotso, Queen Etémé, Charlotte Dipanda, Sally Nyolo, etc.. had no secrets for him.
” ‘Tara’ was a mixture of kindness, commitment and simplicity,” says one of his friends on the online social network Facebook, where a page was opened in honor of their lost “icon.”
He will be remembered as the man of “Sii Teu Tchinlann” (the earth rotates), which was one of many quotations that he liked.
Originally from Bayangam in west Cameroon, Stephane would have been 41 on Dec. 16. On his death, he left his many colleagues and friends with the memory of a wise, cultured man, a tireless worker, rigorous, humble and always smiling.
He said of himself: “If I die one day, write on my tombstone, ‘Here lies a man who never rested.’ ” Finally, now, he gets his well-deserved rest.
Eric O. LEMBEMBE
- LGBT meeting in Cameroon turns bloody as gay-bashers invade (76crimes.com)
- Gay in Cameroon: after beatings in prison, rejection at home (76crimes.com)
- Cameroon Archbishop says LGBT enemies “of creation” (bikyamasr.com)
- Cameroon court hears appeal of 5-year sentence for homosexuality (76crimes.com)
- ‘World Day Against Homosexuality’? No! (76crimes.com)
- Organizing opposition to African ‘Gay Hate Day’ (76crimes.com)