By Edwin Ntumfon Tangwa (PhD)
In a society that is rigged by institutionalized corruption and an amateurish political system that feeds on its own inefficiency, truth and honesty are heretic values that can only be cherished by the most peripheral. Recent works from Cameroon have either been scathing attacks in this political system or critiques of the social climate in the country. Achingale’s latest play deliberately avoids such obvious, overt political themes but by no means remains apolitical. The playwright artfully foregrounds the simple striving of ordinary people against the backdrop of elemental political corruption and successfully depicts the institutional failure in the postcolonial nation-state and its attendant vexatious social upshots in the most subtle, yet poignant, tone.
Some people read plays or watch performances for the entertainment and/or to see how much of their own lives is mirrored in the characters, while others look for the playwright’s political message; for as Ngugi Wa Thiong’o puts it, all postcolonial writers are ‘writers in politics’. The Wrong Decision will certainly satisfy both groups, for it is a play about young people pursuing education as a means to build a bright future for themselves in a society plagued by moral decadence where schools teach corruption. These young people sharply differ in their perception of what that bright future is and how to build it.
For Ango and Gambesso, that future is already assured because of their admission into the Major Academy for Neo Elite (MANE) where they are “trained to be rich” (a subtle reference to the thievery for which graduates from that school are reputed). Ule and Besingi, on the other hand, believe in hard work, love and modesty and their dreams are limited to Elamron Instructors College (EIC) which Ango calls “cheap, popular side”, (again a subtle denigration of the teaching profession which is despised by many in the corrupt Republic of Remak).
There is an unstated conflict between Besingi, Ule and Bih on the one hand and Ango and Gambesso on the other. We only get a sense of this conflict through a passive reference to history made by Besingi in a conversation with Ule. Thereafter it becomes evident that Remak is a divided country and that the opposing circumstances of Ango and Besingi are not the work of chance but rather the consequence of a historically constructed marginalization of people like Besingi, Bih and Ndemazia. It is in the contrast between these characters and their ideas of life that the playwright’s message comes through. The writer’s successful juxtaposition of the simple and the complex, of greed and generosity of heart brings home the message that we reap what we sow but without the usual moralising clichés that usually accompany such themes.
The Wrong Decision is not an elitist play. Entirely absorbing and beautifully crafted in the typical local Cameroonian speech, it is accessible and relevant to every society. Achingale successfully portrays the prevailing political and moral corruption of the barely concealed Central African country through the eyes of its young victims who seem to have sharply contrasting views about good and evil. The students’ experiences at the university and their survival strategies will be familiar to anyone who has been a student in any Cameroonian university while the use of popular names like Bate Besong and Bole Butake brings the play ever closer to the unsuspecting reader.
Finally, Douglas Achingale’s pedagogic drive for which his previous works are reputed is unmistakable in this play. His successful combination of the virulence of Bate Besong and the subtleness of Bole Butake sets him on the path towards a new genre in Cameroonian drama. This is a play that deserves a place in our school syllabi both for its pedagogic and moral undertones. I look forward to more works from this budding writer with a lot of promise.