Mongo Beti


Cameroonian leftist known for his stringent satires against colonialism and neo-colonialism. From his youth an outspoken enemy of colonialism and supporter of Ruben Um Nyobe, the leftist leader who led an armed anti-colonial struggle against the French in Cameroon and was executed in 1958. Spent 32 years of his life in France, due to his criticisms of the client regime in Cameroon. Returned to Cameroon in 1991 where he remained till his death. Taken to the hospital in 2001 for kidney failure he died a week later as he was still waiting in the hospital for dialysis treatment. Beti was killed by the same comprador class he had always denounced for denying adequate services for the people, instead helping neo-colonialists loot their country and fighting over the crumbs left over.

The Poor Christ of Bomba (1956): 220 pages. A strong satire of European missionaries. Beti makes the point that missionaries during colonialism were the spiritual arm of colonialism: they benefited from the inhuman repression of the colonizers by gaining more converts who sought an escape from their miserable lives and some consolation that they would live better in an afterlife. Also, converts were more easily manipulated and controlled due to the religious authority over them exercised by the European missionaries whose interests were completely synonymous with those of the colonial state. It also attacks and mocks the hypocritical conservative "morality" that clergy tend to espouse. Beti further criticizes how this imported and reactionary "morality" is forced on people, and its subsequent effects on them.

Mission to Kala (1957): 185 pages. A humorous novel, it focuses on a student just returning to his village after failing his secondary school matriculation exam. As soon as he arrives he is charged by his village to go to an interior village to retrieve a wife of one of the townsmen. Having a colonial education and a controlling father, the trip is an eye-opener for the youth. In the interior village, which has resisted the influence of colonialism to a great extent (unlike the youth's village), the hero of the story sees and lives a more traditional way of life. An affirmation of some progressive traditions, the novel does not glorify the past, and satirizes many traditions as well. Also highlights approvingly the outlook of the youth of the village, who are free, confident, independent people who have nothing but hate for colonialism, and refuse to be controlled by it or by outdated traditions.

King Lazarus (1958): 186 pages. A hilarious satire of missionaries and their hypocrisy as well as of converts and fierce advocates of "traditional" values. The last of Beti's early satirical novels, it relentlessly mocks the reactionary "traditions" that old, rich lackeys of imperialism hold dear as well as the hypocrisy of the white missionaries in Africa who constantly preach morals and a way of life that has never been practiced in Europe. Beti realistically depicts the worst of the worst, ignorant, cruel, mediocre types that imperialism uses to further it's ends. Beti further makes clear that if these missionaries' teachings were taken seriously the imperialists would be the first to protest and stand in their way.  As usual Beti does not limit himself to political critique but social as well, attacking the abhorrent institution of polygamy and mocking the ridiculousness of an old man being theoretically responsible for sexually pleasing several young women daily, the idea of which is an insult to the just sexual desires and needs of women.

Perpetua and the Habit of Unhappiness (1974): 221 pages. The first in Mongo Beti's "Ruben trilogy" that deals with the defeat of the leftist anti-imperialist movement led in Cameroon by Ruben and the subsequent dictatorship of "Babatoura" and the "managed" independence of Cameroon which led, as elsewhere, to continued foreign domination and forced underdevelopment. This novel takes aim specifically at the social consequences of this defeat and its negative influence on individuals and their relationships. One of Beti's few works which avoids humor and satire and concentrates on brutal political and social critique. Beti focuses his attention on the mistreatment of women in general, their enforced subservience to their husbands and more specifically what enables this exploitation, i.e. the tradition of "bride price" or "mahr" or more directly the sale of daughters to their future torturers. A strong condemnation of many so-called traditions which are objectively negative, as well as the imperialist control which encourages and enables the most reactionary, backward beliefs and practices.

More specifically, it talks of the struggles of Ruben supporters who were rounded up, condemned by military courts and confined to hellish concentration camps and mistreated until they signed renunciations of their principles or died, which brings to mind the techniques of the fascist regime in Greece and its treatment of communists after world war 2. One such Rubenist militant who is released from a concentration camp after ten years begins a search to find out the truth behind his favorite young sister's death six months before his release.