Book Review: Douglas Achingale’s The Wrong Decision: A castigation of the trouble with Cameroon

Title: The Wrong Decision: A castigation of the trouble with Cameroon.
Number of Pages: 83

Price: 3,000 CFA Frs.
Publisher: Nyaa Publishers.
Reviewer: *Freddy Eta Besong.

Douglas Achingale’s The Wrong Decision is a play written in three acts and treating the theme of cupidity and exaggerated ambition, among others, in our contemporary Cameroonian society.

The principal characters, Besingi and Ule, are simple and poor folks (reflective of the majority of Cameroonians) who are, however, honest and steadfast to each other and to their principles, and determined to make it in life through hard work and integrity.

The playwright uses simple and straightforward language to pillory a callous system that transforms its youth into monstrous kleptomaniacs who, because of their predilection for a fast-paced life, end up calamitously. This is the case with the likes of Ango, Gambesso, and Ndemazia.

The playwright uses contrast to depict two institutions of higher learning in our society: the Major Academy for Neo Elite (MANE) and the Elamron Instructors College, (EIC). Students in both institutions are placed at pole ends, the ones being trained to be the (thieving) elite and the others to be the (honest) underdogs of our society.

This portraiture is evident in the dressing of the students of MANE, Ango and Gambesso (dressed in suits) as against the near rags of the student of EIC, Besingi (dressed in “red threadbare shirt, a pair of faded blue trousers and a pair of old shoes with soles that look like crushed Kumba bread” [Act 1:Sc.2]).

Doing the right thing: Douglas Achingale talking to the press after the book launch

The plot The plot centres around Besingi, a poor student in the teachers training college (EIC) and his fiancée, Ule, equally from a humble background and orphaned.

At the start of the play she is a second year student at the University of Alogno together with her two friends (Bih and Ndemazia). Despite her poverty, Ule is a beautiful young girl with a good moral character and a studious disposition. Her simple, natural beauty is charming enough to capture the attention of the supposed well-cultured students of MANE, who, in their sartorial elegance and mean arrogance, think she can be wooed easily, judging from her destitution which they misconstrue for desperation.

Ule is repelled by their ‘big talk’ of being superior students to those of EIC, even more so when they allude to her fiancé, Besingi, as being beggarly. In a display of integrity despite her disappointment at the 4000 francs given to her by her fiancé to buy food and do her hair in a beauty salon, she repulses the advances of the MANE students made to her and turns down Ango’s free offer of 20.000 francs (crisp notes for that matter) for her to go buy decent dressing.

Besingi is pricked when Ule narrates her encounter with the boastful Ango and Gambesso but soothed in the end when she assures him of her quick rebuff to their wooing and how she defended the integrity of EIC and its graduates, making them to understand that it is her dream school. However, when Ule narrates her encounter with the MANE students to her two classmates and friends, Bih and Ndemazia, the two react differently, indicative of their different moralities. Bih is, from her description, a destitute but morally upright student like Ule while Ndemazia is a morally corrupt female student interested in living a fast-paced life just like most of the youths of today.

She is cupid and promptly jumps upon the opportunity of meeting the supposed wealthy students of the elitist MANE who, according to her, Ule repelled out of ignorance. Thanks to a complementary card Ango had forced on Ule, Ndemazia schemes and gets acquainted to the future elite of the society, Ango; and, to me, this was THE WRONG DECISION. The encounter of the two depraved minds (Ango and Ndemazia) can only spell out one thing – calamity! And that is what happens to them both.

While Besingi on the one hand and Ule and her like, Bih, on the other, earnestly strive through their studies to uplift themselves from their humble backgrounds, Ango, Ndemazia and Co. embark on a perverse lifestyle of sex, night clubbing, thievery and, later, corruption; all in pretensions of living a full life. Of course, the end result is tragic.

Ndemazia gets pregnant for Ango who rejects the pregnancy and throws her out, marries another girl (probably an ethnic affinity), and most regrettably Ndemazia becomes a university dropout despite being an intelligent student. Ango himself, after leaving MANE, works only for six months, and being the trained kleptomaniac, embezzles 50 billion francs and is slammed a 30-year jail sentence.

In the meantime, the studious and morally upright Besingi and Ule reap the fruit of their labour as the one graduates to become a teacher (his dream profession) and the other does not only graduate in flying colors with a Bachelor’s degree in English but also succeeds in passing the entrance exam into the instructors college (a dream come true through steadfastness). To crown it all, they are both blessed with a boy child.

Playwright. Signing copies of his newly published book ‘The Wrong Decision: A castigation of the trouble with Cameroon’

Characterization The playwright’s characters are dynamic and elicit either admiration or scorn. Characterization in the play is polarized between the good and the ugly (those who are offensive to one’s sensibilities or morality). On the one hand, we have admirable characters like Besingi, Ule and Bih; all from humble backgrounds but determined to make it to the top through hard work and moral integrity.

They are selfless and humane characters; a situation one can attribute to their cultural origin and upbringing to be God-fearing and have the general good of others at heart. On the other hand, there are the despicable characters like Ango, Gambesso, and Ndemazia; selfish, manipulative, arrogant, cupid, and morally depraved.

They are the breed of young people in our society who espouse the philosophy of ‘get rich quick or die trying’. Theirs is a “dog-eat-dog world” in which everything should be for them and the others can wallow in misery or perish. Ango and Gambesso, as students of the Major Academy for Neo Elite, already wear the airs of Patricians as they feel disgusted at the mere sight of the shabby dressing of Besingi, a student of the Elamron Instructors College which they consider to be the “cheap, popular side”.

Being final year taxation students of the Major Academy for Neo Elite, they feel on top of the world and lavishly display wealth to Ule on their first encounter by freely offering her two crisp ten thousand franc notes for her to buy decent dressing that befits her beauty.

To this loathsome duo is added their female counterparts; Ndemazia and Alima. The foursome live a life devoid of moral uprightness: they live solely to satisfy their bodily needs in terms of sex, good food and drinks, night clubbing, fine clothes and other material things.

Style The writer’s style is simple but provokes deep thought. The use of language and stage directions fill us in on the characters, eliciting admiration, sympathy, abhorrence or laughter as the case maybe.

For example, the description of Besingi’s and Ule’s dressing draws our sympathy whereas the picture of Besingi “…bare above the waist…hungrily eating garri steeped in water with fried groundnuts and listening to ‘BBC Focus on Africa’” evokes sympathy and hilarity at the same time. When we meet Ango and Gambesso for the first time as students of the Major Academy for Neo Elite, we tend to dislike their pretentions of superiority when they refer to Besingi as “an ugly destitute bloke” (Act 1; sc 3) and scoff at the 4000 francs he gives his sweetheart, Ule, to go to the market and prepare food and equally do her hair with the same money.

When they later meet Ndemazia (even though they do not remember how, where or when they made her acquaintance), they get excited and promptly begin excessive spending of money to impress her, without knowing that she had schemed her way into their lives for purely materialistic and selfish reasons.

The encounter between Ango, Gambesso and Ndemazia heralds doom for the three of them. The playwright clearly demonstrates in the play that good and evil are never bedmates. One could at the beginning think that the poor girl, Ule, would be tempted by the show of wealth of the crass MANE students.

But she scoffs at their apparent riches and stays steadfast to her beloved though destitute fiancé, Besingi. Even when her wayward friend, Ndemazia, provocatively tells Ule and Bih of her expensive lifestyle, thanks to the lavish spending of Ango, Ule remains unimpressed and rather prophetically advises her friend to steer clear of devilish ways.

On no other occasion in the drama do we see the morally upright Ule get in contact again with the perverted Ango and Gambesso, nor do any of the other good characters like Besingi and Bih.

Setting The play is set in modern day Cameroon and deals with issues plaguing our country like greed, cupidity, moral depravity, embezzlement of public funds, marginalization and other vices. The playwright, in a quite subtle manner, criticizes these vices, just like the contemporaries whose works he cites: The Death Certificate by Alobwed’Epie, Across the Mongolo by Nkemngong Nkengasong, In the Shadow of My Country by Mbuh Tennu Mbuh, The Wages of Corruption by Sammy Oke Akombi and Breaking the Barracks by Mathew Takwi.

Douglas Achingale alludes to recognizable institutions of learning in our country like the Major Academy for Neo Elite (MANE) and the ELamron Instructors College (EIC) which undeniably are respectively the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM) and the Higher Teachers Training College (ENS) both in Yaounda.

Allusion is also made to the KondengBell prison which is nothing else but the maximum security prisons in Kondengui, Yaounde and New Bell, Douala, detaining “white collar thieves” and others. The playwright also uses anagrams to allude to recognizable places. There is first of all an allusion made to the Remak Republic. If we read Remak backwards, it gives us Kamer, a jargon used today by youths to refer to Cameroon.

Then there is the nation’s capital, Alogno, in which is found the university campus; this is simply an anagram for Ongola, the original name for Yaounde. Then we have names like Sanob and Otach which are simply Bonas (short form for Bonamonssadi) and Chateau (well known students residential areas around the University of Yaounde 1).

Achingale also mentions items which represent our modern Cameroon society (flat screen TV sets owned by Ango, short tight-fitting skirts barely covering the “string” panties worn by the “femme fatale” Ndemazia, allusion to the Cameroonian musicians, Petit Pays, and his notorious song “Nioxxer” and Franco with his equally bad but famous song “Coller la Petite,” all songs preferred by Ango and telling of his corrupt mind.

Finally there is allusion made to the current crisis rocking the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon and which has been qualified as the “Anglophone Problem;” a crisis whose origin Achingale attributes still, through historical allusion made by the main character Besingi to:

“the unholy intertwinement of the two major segments of Remak Republic, weaved by our forefathers, who, covertly or overtly, were manipulated . The arrangement was simply a ploy to enslave us once and for all.” [Act 3; Sc.3]

Cultural perspective Douglas Achingale’s The Wrong Decision is a play steeped in culture. At a time when the powers that be are laying emphasis on Cameroon’s bilingualism and multi culturalism to reinforce national integration, the play comes to add its own little quota by highlighting the culture of the people from the geographical area where the playwright partly emanates – the Oroko tribe of the South West region.

The protagonists, Besingi and Ule are representative of the ethnic group and are still imbued with the cultural values of their area. This is seen in foods like cocoyam which they eat in various forms, especially as ekpang, a delicacy and special dish of the ethnic group, porridge plantain with huge chunks of meat, palm wine, etc. Besingi is also well versed with the wise sayings of his kinsfolk, proverbs which he uses with ease and are telling of his love for his culture. Examples are;

”The stubborn fly goes subterranean with the corpse”. ”The blind toad jumps into hot the water”. ”The foolish hunter steps into the game’s snare”. ”The silly butterfly sips water instead of nectar”. [Act 3; scene 3]

The last scene of the play (Act 3; scene 4) is quite revelatory of the culture of the Oroko people as displayed through the traditional dance and songs of the crowd that turned out to feast in celebration of the birth of the son of Besingi and Ule as well as the success of Ule in the competitive examination into the Elamron Instructors College.

The cultural background of the protagonists as seen in the play, can be interpreted as having moulded them to be selfless and humane beings contrasted with antagonists in the play like Ango and Gambesso who originate from the Beti /Ewondo ethnic group known for their lack of moral uprightness and cavalier manner. This attitude they manifest throughout the play and it is the source of the calamitous end. Conclusively, therefore, Douglas Achingale’s The Wrong Decision is a play that x-rays the contemporary Cameroonian society, especially the ills plaguing this society.

The playwright’s castigation of these excesses is a way of drawing each and everyone’s attention to them, especially the powers that be, so that they could be checked for the good of all Cameroonians.

The penchant of today’s youths in our society to live a life of riches and ease without any efforts is what is creating a problem for our society. This is portrayed through characters like, Ango, Gambesso, and Ndemazia. Reading The Wrong Decision by Douglas Achingale will be consciousness-raising of the Cameroonian society of today. It is, therefore, a must-read play for all.

*Freddy Eta Besong is a Literary Scholar and Senior Journalist

 

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