The Soldiers’ Petition

Around halfway through (approximately the 45 minute mark) we, the viewers, are confronted with a rather tense scene in which a group of soldiers breach the PM’s compound to speak with Lumumba and his cabinet directly. This scene is particularly interesting for the play between legitimate (perhaps I’m being overly simple, but for the purpose of discussion, I’ll also say “peaceful”) acts and demands and illegitimate (or violent) acts or threats. Obviously, the group has no scheduled place in Lumumba’s compound, have been resisted by Lumumba’s security forces, and approach the cabinet bearing arms. And yet, they present a petition, an indiction of a highly organized political agenda, and a method that it, though conducted to its recipient in a violent manner, ultimately a peaceful method of dissent. The fact that just before their entrance Mobutu cries, “They’re crazy! What do they want?” (bearing in mind this is before his appointment to commander) indicates that they may have had no other choice. The language used (specifically “crazy”) indicates that the higher-ups viewed the soldiers’ concerns as illegitimate. The respect of the lead soldier’s address saying “Excellency” and using the “vous” form suggest something less crass than the stupid drunken rebellion we see elsewhere. Their cries of “Let us in! We want to see him!” mirrors a parallel sentiment to the same protests launched against the colonial regime; one of self-assertion, the demand to be heard. Ultimately the threat against the lives of the white officers bring the soldiers back to a position of violence. But the complication remains. What do you make of this moment? Is it Lumumba’s response that turns these soldiers into the demonized figures we see later (as in the road stop scene where the white couple is assaulted)? I realize that Lumumba and his cohorts spoke of the Katanga/Belgian/UN/(to a certain degree) US forces fomenting much of the unrest, yet I still found this scene arresting in the way that it humanized and, in a particular way, made more legitimate the unrest of the soldiers. I would also note that here we see soldiers pitted against soldiers (that is, those loyal to Lumumba, protecting his compound, and those presenting the petition) while later all soldiers seem to be coded as “bad,” that is against Lumumba.

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Posted on September 18, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That question of whether or not this was a peaceful/justified form of protest I think is fair.

    On the one hand, the soldiers did physically force their way into the compound. They likely hurt, if not murdered many on their way into the compound and certainly threatened to do so if they were resisted more significantly. They even pointed a gun at the Prime Minister and threatened to kill him, which is by no means peaceful and would have sparked a massacre of massive proportions with so many guns in such a small room during such an emotionally violent situation.

    On the other hand, the soldiers point of view must be taken into account. The Congolese Army units were underpaid, disrespected and answering to Belgian officers whom were resented by the Congolese and served the interests of the throne of King Badouin. They were asking the PM to sign a petition, which is peaceful in theory. Nonetheless the peace behind that notion is negated when a gun is pointed at the man with a pen.

    To some extent, they can’t be blamed for serving their own interests when they felt as if they weren’t being heard. But they threatened to murder the Prime Minister and several top government officials who just worked hard to establish an independent government that ultimately had many of the same wishes and desires.

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