Reviewed by Lyombe Eko
Dibussi Tande. No Turning Back: Poems of Freedom 1990-1993. Langaa Research and Publishing (Bamenda, 2007).
Writing is an existential act. To write is to proclaim loudly and clearly that one exists. From an historical perspective, those who would not have written something, anything, would not have existed! However, writing is more than a mere proclamation of existence. Writers who have made their mark in life, whose proverbial pens have left strokes on the body politic of humanity are those who are engaged in the eternal struggles of human existence, the fight for justice, fairness, human dignity, as well as the right to appreciate the sacred and the aesthetically pleasing things of life.
Cameroonian journalist, writer, poet, and essayist, Dibussi Tande, can clearly be numbered with the "engaged" writers of Cameroon. His book, No Turning Back: Poems of Freedom 1990-1993, is a palpable act of literary and intellectual trench warfare. The vigor, talent, and idealism of youth
pulsate with immediacy and urgency throughout the collection. The genesis of Tande¹s literary career is the momentous events of the 1990s, when global political circumstances led to a rare flowering of the African bombax tree of freedom, giving voice to the voiceless. The music of freedom was in the
air as ossified and mummified kleptocratic regimes trembled and quaked. This collection of poems is a thundering, yet highly disciplined critique of the authoritarianism, tribal patronage, and political arbitrariness that is the stock-in-trade of the political jungle of Africa in general, and Cameroon in
Though Tande is a poet with a view, a global view, he is at his best when he casts his sharp poetic eye on Africa in general and Cameroon, in particular, and vocalizes the anguish of his native oppression. The poet laments that the birth pangs of freedom of the 1990s led to tribulation,
which morphed into the death throes of youthful idealism. The poet metaphorically shakes his fists at the rebirth of tyranny in the aftermath of Africa¹s post independence wind of change in the 1990s.
While this collection of poems is born of the tyrannical suffocation of an African¹s youthful idealism, they are not permissively cynical. The message that echoes through the volume is a message of the triumph of hope over despair. In a moving poem "Journey¹s End-Going Back West," which echoes
a refrain from Jamaican Musician, Jimmy Cliff, Tande expresses the longing for the mythical, eternal return and the New Beginning:
"I am going back West
To start off from where I left."
This is his take home message: even in Africa, New Beginnings are possible! Hope is, after all, the stock-in-trade of the bard.
Reviewed by Lyombe Eko
Iowa City, Iowa (2009).