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Opinions of Friday, 1 October 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

The UN's Dag Hammarskjold was cruelly killed 60 years ago, 'Whodunit'?

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold

When colonized African countries began to regain their nationhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they did so in a world political framework that, they believed, would protect their independence.

Their belief was based on the fact that before the struggle for independence gathered momentum, the (then) three “Great Powers” of the world – the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Great Britain – had met in Yalta to work out how the victory they were gaining over Germany and its allies, could be translated into long-lasting peace for the world after Germany's defeat.

The “Great Powers” reinforced the optimism of colonized peoples that the end of the Second World War would mean liberation for them, by proposing the formation of a new organization, to be called “the United Nations”, to replace the moribund League of Nations.

All the free nations of the world (of which only Ethiopia and Liberia came from Africa) attended a conference held between 25 April and 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, California, to see how the idea could be implemented. Altogether, representatives of 50 countries attended, with the result that hope was renewed that the post-war world would be an eternally peaceful one.

Thus, there was much rejoicing when the United Nations formally came into being on 24 October 1945, under a Charter that was voluntarily ratified by all those countries that had signed the San Francisco proposal.

These included the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China, as well as by a majority of what was described as “the other signatories”.

But the high hopes of the world were not realized. For each of the two “blocs” into which the post-war world was divided, secretly feared that the UN would become the “instrument” of the other, in their mutual desire to win what had become an “ideological” war.

How the resources of the world could be “cornered” and utilized to achieve military and economic power, was the secret objective behind this “ideological war”.

So, distrust marked relations between the creators of the UN from the word go. Efforts were made to gain secret control of the UN Organisation's Secretariat. Espionage against each bloc by the other convinced them that they were indeed engaged in an undeclared war.

To reduce the mistrust a bit, small countries considered to be relatively “neutral”, were selected to provide the head of the person who would head the Organisation – the Secretary-General. The first of these was Trygve Lie, a former Foreign Minister of Norway. But he was a bad choice, for the McCarthy anti-Communist movement in the USA, smeared him for being a Soviet sympathizer., even as the spies of the USSR told that country that Mr. Lie was in fact an American “agent”. The position of Lie became impossible when an actual “hot” war broke out in Korea. He resigned in November 1952.

Supporters of the UN hoped that Trygve Lie's difficulties would serve as a warning to the Great Powers not to try and recruit the Secretary-General to their side, and leave him alone to serve the interests of the whole world, not those of a bloc. The new man chosen was also – a Scandinavian! He was a Swedish intellectual called Dag Hammarskjold.

Initially, Hammarskjold seemed to enjoy the confidence of both sides. But then came the “Congo crisis” of the mid-1960. The Congo had won its independence from its colonizer, Belgium, on 30 June 1960, in much the same way that Ghana had won its sovereignty from the UK in 1957, and several French colonies had won theirs between 1957 and 1960.

But the Congo's independence was granted under false pretenses. Belgium, the Congo's [now]-benevolent” colonizer, had cynically pre-determined that independence to lead immediately to anarchy.

For, on the day of independence, the Belgian commander of the Congolese army (the “Force Publique”) deliberately provoked the Congolese troops unde3r his command by telling a parade that the situation “after independence” was going to be the same as “before independence!” The Congolese troops mutinied almost immediately after the parade, throwing the country into chaos.

The independent African states, led by President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, detected that the mutiny had been provoked as a stratagem to enable Belgium to send Belgian paratroopers into the Congo to “restore order” and save the lives of Belgian citizens working in the Congo, who were being attacked by the mutinous Congolese troops.

The African states, backed by the non-aligned nations at the UN, therefore requested the United Nations to send a Peacekeeping Force to intervene and thereby save the Congo's independence.

But Belgium and its allies did not want the UN Peace-keeping force to prevent the Belgian paratroopers to operate in the Congo as they pleased. Unfortunately, the troops the UN had sent were often under the command of officers who were sympathetic to the Belgian viewpoint. So the Belgian invasion of the Congo began to achieve its objectives under the very noses of the UN Peacekeeping Force.

Meanwhile, to achieve the recolonization of the Congo, the Belgians and their North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies began to muddy the waters of Congolese internal politics. They incited President Lumumba had chosen to work within a coalition, Joseph Kasavubu, to “sack” Lumumba.

Lumumba resisted Kasavubu's action by himself dismissing Kasavubu in his turn! But bad as that was, what happened in the Katanga Province of the Congo was much worse.

Katanga was where the rich copper, uranium, and other rich minerals were sited, and the Belgians managed to get the most influential politician in the Province, Moise Tshombe, to “secede” from the Congo Republic and declare Katanga an “independent state!”

The “secession” of Katanga was a political master-stroke by Belgium and its allies. As noted above, Katanga was where the Congo's mineral wealth was to be found. Through a company called Tanganyika Concessions, the Western countries owned the largest mining company in the Congo, Union Miniere du Haut Katanga.

This company operated a mine called Shinkolobwe, that had provided the uranium used by the US in its “Manhattan Project” that produced the first atomic bombs in the world, which were used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, in 1945, to secure the surrender of Japan in the Second World War.

Katanga's “secession” was therefore seen by the USSR and the independent African states at the UN, as a ploy by the West to ensure that the Lumumba Government could not provide access to uranium from Shinkolobwe to the USSR if it was ever inclined to do so.

The Congolese Government had, of course, declared itself non-aligned in the Cold War, but the US and its allies did not want to take any chances. So they launched a full-scale covert subversion of the Government of Lumumba.

At their instigation, chaos upon remote-controlled chaos enveloped the Congo. A Congolese soldier called Joseph Mobutu, a long-term Belgian secret agent later handed to the CIA, was then advised to take advantage of the dispute between Kasavubu and Lumumba to seize power.

Eventually, Prime Minister Lumumba was brutally murdered in a conspiracy organized by Mobutu and Tshombe, under the direction of the Belgian secret service and the CIA.

But that only worsened the Congo quagmire. And in a bid to end Katanga's secession by reaching an agreement with Tshombe, by negotiating personally with the secessionist leader – a step opposed by the way, by Afro-Asian group at the UN – Secretary-General Hammarskjöld set out, to go to the Congo.

Behind the back of Hammarskjoeld's own representative in Katanga, the Irish diplomat, Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, Hammarskjold flew to Ndola, in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to attend a meeting with Tshombe.

On 18 September 1961, Hammarskjoeld's plane crashed near Ndola, and he was killed. 15 personnel travelling with him also died.

Was Hammarskjold's plane shot down? If so, by whom? The world had asked these questions. There was circumstantial evidence to support speculations that Hammarskjold had been murdered. First of all, the ill-fated meeting was to have been held in the British-controlled territory of Northern Rhodesia.

The meeting had been arranged by the British Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lord Lansdowne. So it was only to be assumed that the British knew every detail of the Secretary-General's trip. Yet when the meeting did not take place, bizarre statements were made at Ndola, some pretending that the Secretary-General had changed his mind and flows elsewhere!

Nevertheless, a UN investigation decided that the plane had crashed in an accident. However, years later, as evidence piled up that Hammarskjöld had been deliberately killed, the UN investigation was reopened. A judge from Tanzania was appointed to head it. He sent requests to all the countries that had an interest in the Congo's affairs in 1961 to provide information to enable him to come to a firm conclusion about the incident, once and for all. This was denied him with excuses some of which are quite simply ridiculous.

And so, sixty years since the man who personified the UN's objective of solving complex political problems through negotiation died on a mission to fulfil the UN's purpose, many countries and organizations have stepped up the pressure for the Government's withholding information from the inquiry, to tell the world what they know, and thus end the suspicions and speculations about the sad event.

Among the organizations working tirelessly for the release of the hidden information, is the United Nations Association of Westminster, London, England. Among the events commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hammarskjold's death, the aforementioned Westminster UN Association held a “webinar” to review the situation regarding the provision of information to the UN Investigatory Commission.

Events also took place in Upsalla, Sweden, and Lusaka, Zambia. Bits of intriguing revelations were made at the London webinar, in particular – as I shall report, in a second article.