Who Killed Hammarskjold? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

 

Who Killed Hammarskjold? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

by Susan Williams

Hurst and Company London (2016)

Book Review

This book details the author’s extensive investigation into a suspicious 1961 air crash that killed the second UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold. Her first edition, published in 2011, would trigger a new UN investigation, in 2015, into the cause of his death. In 2016, UN investigators concluded that Hammarskjold died as a result of foul play. However owing to US and UK refusal to release classified files, they couldn’t conclusively identify the individuals responsible.

The book begins by setting the stage for what was clearly an assassination. Williams describes in detail the role of foreign mining companies in fighting full independence of the Congo from Belgian rule. Belgian officers loyal to these companies continued to command Congolese troops following “official”  independence in 1960. When these troops mutinied, the UN declined a request for assistance from Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba.

His appeal to the Soviet Union (and the arrival of Soviet troops) would lead Katanga province (where most of the mines were located) to secede – with the support of Belgian troops and a bevy of white mercenaries from Rhodesia, South Africa, Britain and France.

At this point, the UN Security Council passed resolution 143, ordering Belgian troops to withdraw and installing UN peacekeepers in Katanga to prevent civil war. The CIA’s response was to assassinate Lumumba and Install their protege Mobutu Sese Seko (who would brutally ruled the Congo/Zaire from 1965-1997) as chief of Congo’s military.

Mobutu, in turn, arrested, tortured and executed all the senior members of the Congolese senate. The Security Council responded with Resolution 161, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign advisors and authorizing the UN to take “all necessary measures” to prevent civil war. This included supplying armed UN troops to protect the Congolese government.

When it was became clear the UN troops (who had significantly  inferior weapons) had no chance against the mercenaries’ superior fire power and Belgian air support, Hammerskjold set out for Nolda in Northern Rhodesia to try to negotiate a ceasefire with Katanga’s acting president Moise Tsombe. The secretary general’s jet mysteriously crashed as it approached Nolda airport.

In additions to hundreds of eyewitnesses (including a crash survivor who spent a week in hospital before he died) who saw Hammerskjold’s plane explode before it crashed, the most intriguing evidence comes from radio traffic between a pilot (reporting his attack on Hammerskjold’s jet) picked up by a US NSA operative in Cyprus and an Ethiopiann short wave operator and mysterious telexes* discovered in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation files in 1998. The latter refer to the plot to assassinate the Secretary General as “Operation Celeste,” run by shadowy South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAMIR) mercenaries.

As best as investigators can reconstruct, Operation Celeste planted a bomb on the DC-6 prior to its departure from Leopoldville.** When it failed to explode on take-off, two smaller planes were sent to intercept the jet and prevent it from landing. One pilot fired shots at the DC-6 that triggered the bomb to explode.


* Prior to the advent of the Internet, the telex network was an international system of teleprinters electronically interconnected by telephone lines.

**Leopoldville has since been renamed Kinshasha.

Africa’s Hidden History

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace*

Directed by Adam Curtis

BBC (2011)

Part 3

Film Review

The basic theme of the final video is this series is a bit unclear. Curtis seems to imply, based on flimsy and subjective evidence, that western liberals who provide humanitarian and developmental assistance to third world countries only make their living situation worse.

The main focus of Part 3 is the civil wars in Congo and Rwanda over valuable mineral resources coveted by multinational corporations. There’s a particular emphasis on coltan, a rare earth mineral essential in the manufacture of computers, play stations and smartphones.

The CIA Coup Against Lamumba

The film traces the history of the Congo back to 1960 when it first gained independence from Belgium. In 1961, after the Congo’s first president Patrice Lamumba allied himself with the USSR, the US and Belgium instigated a coup to remove him from power and had him murdered. Fearful that Congo’s rich mineral wealth would fall into Soviet hands, they replaced him with the brutal pro-western dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

The Belgian Role in Rwanda Genocide

Curtis traces Rwandan history from their first episode of genocide, engineered by their Belgian rulers in 1959. Fearful that the Rwandans, like other colonized Africans, would demand independence, the Belgians deliberately instigated ethnic conflict by issuing mandatory race cards and promoting the myth that the Tutsis (which Belgium made colonial administrators) were a superior race that had migrated to Rwanda from ancient Egypt. Meanwhile Belgian aid workers encouraged oppressed Hutus (who comprised 85% of the population) to revolt. After three years of bloody civil war, Belgium granted Rwanda independence in 1962.

In 1994, the Hutus seized control of the Rwandan government and deliberately exterminated nearly a million Tsutsis. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled across the border into Congo, where the UN and western aid agencies set up refugee camps. Curtis maintains it was a mistake to set up refugee camps because there were Hutu assassins hiding among the refugees. Armed conflict between Tsutsis and Hutus spread to rebel armies seeking to overthrow Mobutu. Hoping to win a piece of Congo’s mineral wealth, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Namibia, Uganda and Libya all dispatched troops to support the rebels. Leaving more than five million dead, the civil war would continue until 2003.

I find it a bit puzzling that Curtis blames the UN and humanitarian organizations for fanning the flames of the Congo’s civil war. Surely most, if not all of the blame lies with the multinationals behind Mobotu’s dictatorship.

The Selfish Gene

Curtis interweaves his discussion of Congo and Rwandan history with relevant scientific research that endeavored to prove that humans are complex computer-like machines.

In 1967, population geneticist George Price allegedly proved that human beings were soft machines run by on board computers (i.e. DNA). A corollary of this hypothesis was that human beings commit murder and genocide because of a “selfish gene” which genetically programs us to hate a kill people who are genetically unrelated to us.

Price worked closely with evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton who, based on his research, argued against providing medical treatment when people get sick because this causes genetically inferior people to survive and reproduce.

Dian Fossey’s Mountain Gorillas

A third narrative describes the work of primate ethnologist Dian Fossey who was studying Congo’s mountain gorillas during the decade-long civil war. My favorite scene depicts British naturalist David Attenborough stretched out on top of one of Fossey’s gorillas as they share a moment of relaxed contemplation.

*Title of 1967 monograph distributed free by California cybernetics enthusiast Richard Brautigan. Available for $400 from Abe Books