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Title: The Ladder
Volume: 176 Pages
Publisher: Shilloprint
Reviewer: NSAIKIMO KILLIAN FAI — When a country abandons the key factors of its development, it has unwittingly opted for the development of its underdevelopment. This statement may sound axiomatic and banal when made generally, but when it is applied with a sincere focus to a given society, it is a source of much sadness and pity for any serious patriot.

In The Ladder, Baye Alexander Bongfen’s hero, Kiffoi, armed with a certificate from the Higher Teacher’s Training College in his country, embraces his first posting to a very remote, almost inaccessible backward village called Forkeh, with a lot of courage, determination enthusiasm and patriotism.

It is in this spirit that he braves his first journey to this first station which turns out to be an initiation into the numerous huddles that he will encounter in his career. These huddles, in turn, necessitate that he digs deep into himself for such moral qualities as perseverance, tolerance and deep patriotism which could enable him overcome these obstacles.

He does, however, begin his career with some degree of success because his work is appreciated by the students who are supposed to be the prime beneficiaries of his efforts and also by the Principal who promotes him to the rank of Assistant Discipline Master. But, surprisingly, some of his colleagues tend to consider his hard work, duty-consciousness and efficiency, as a threat because they feel that, by so doing, he is gunning for their positions. This is the case of the Senior Discipline Master, Mr. Kibir, who resorts to gossip and character assassination.

Mr. Kibir and Pa Shey Ngeh assassinate Kiffoi’s character to the Fon and to the Principal and finally succeed to cause Kiffoi to be summoned and queried on account of ridiculous things that he had never done. In the end, supposedly to save himself from these numerous threats, Kiffoi falls into the trap of a witchdoctor and his magical solution which turns out to be a surprising, exploitative hypnotism of a brilliant intellectual by an ignorant witchdoctor. Through some divine justice, Mr Kibir agonizes and dies after confessing all his diabolic machinations and chicanery against Kiffoi.

Subsequently, Kiffoi rises to social and political prominence in Kilo’o country, first through hard work and honest means; then, through dubious and devilish means with the help of witchdoctors and even occultism. His rise is meteoric: Senior Discipline Master, Vice Principal, Principal, Regional Delegate and then Minister. But his fall is catastrophic; he is disowned by his honest and godly father who strongly disapproves of his dubious and devilish ways and would neither receive a gift from Kiffoi nor tolerate him to participate in his funeral when he dies.

Feeling publicly disgraced and embarrassed, Kiffoi defiantly organises a second funeral after his father’s death and refuses either to divorce Ex-Mrs Dufe or renounce politics as his late father had strongly demanded. In an attempt to crown the occasion with gunshots, he inadvertently shoots and kills his wife and two other people. Inter-village strife ensues and he is incarcerated. He finally commits suicide in his lonely cell and is buried shamefully with newspapers making derogatory comments about his life and death.

All said and done, Baye’s novel introduces us into the careerists’ world of Kilo’o country which bristles with astonishing wickedness and diabolisms. It is a world of mediocrity, laxity, negligence and, above all, diversion of useful energies into irrelevant personality conflicts and struggles that end up bringing underdevelopment rather than development to the society.

The reader’s determination to put a finger on Kilo’o society as a fictive world only reminds him that the other four fingers are pointing to the real world of the author’s Cameroonian society.
It is a society where excellence and patriotism are punished and mediocrity promoted. 

Indeed, it is a world in which party sycophants can lustfully point to the petty mediocre achievements of a leader who has ruled a country for a third of a century as ‘great achievements’, oblivious of this fact that within the same period, Kenyatta’s Kenya, Nyerere’s Tanzarnia, Nkrumah’s Ghana, Kaunda’s Zambia and Little Cape Verde, have made strides in their development that leave Cameroon centuries behind, because their societies are built on the foundations of good leadership. As art, Baye’s novel is enriched by allusions to John Butchan’s The Thrity-Nine Steps and Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.

Furthermore, among the novels written by novelists of Nso origin like Jumbam’s ‘Lukong and the Leopard’ (with the White of Cattle (1975), The White man of God (1980) and Nsahlai Athanasius’ Out of the Shadows (2004) and The Buffalo Rider (2008), Baye’s The Ladder (2012) distinguishes itself as a novel written with a national consciousness, rather than that of a smaller socio-cultural group like Nso.

In addition, he has to his credit, a superb mastery of the English language which sometimes rises to bombast, but just in a manner to say that competence has not been given its due in his society. Given the author’s experiences in his professional life, one is tempted to think that this first work is replete with autobiographical antecedents and echoes (but which great literary work is not?)

Finally, Baye’s novel is so full of vraisemblance that one feels that it frequently oscillates from fiction to faction, and this first novel is so exciting that the literary public cannot help but anxiously expect more from him.

B.A. Maîtrise D.E.A.
(Literary Critic and Professional Reviewer Kumbo)

First published in The Post print edition no 01395

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