At a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on 18 August 1960 (only seven weeks after the Belgian Congo had become independent) President Eisenhower personally gave the go-ahead to the CIA to work out how to eliminate Patrice Lumumba. If the President of the United States was prepared to give such instructions in relation to an African leader pursuing policies unacceptable to the West, then he or someone else in the political hierarchy of the West would just as quickly give instructions to eliminate the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, who was seen to be pursuing policies in Africa that went against western interests. The question is who gave such instructions? Susan Williams’ deeply researched book provides many clues as to the likely source of such instructions but no final answer as to who ordered the killing of Hammarskjold. The author demonstrates the hatred for Hammarskjold that existed in the white south of Africa where settlers in Rhodesia or upholders of apartheid in South Africa saw his activities as a direct threat to their continuing white hold on the region. Their attitudes were reinforced by the powerful group of right wing Tories in Britain (the Katanga lobby) who represented both big business investments in southern Africa and, more ideologically, the maintenance of white supremacy. Roy Welensky, the prime minister of the Central African Federation (CAF) said openly he would do anything to ensure the survival of white domination while the British High Commissioner to the CAF, Lord Alport, clearly knew something was planned on the fateful night when Hammarskjold’s plane the Albertina was expected in Ndola. In any case, 1960 was a year of decision-making: it was the annus mirabilis of African independence when 17 colonies became independent; the meeting between Eisenhower and Khruschev in Vienna was aborted by the U2 spy plane fiasco; the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan delivered his “Wind of Change” speech in Cape Town in February to be followed in March by the Sharpeville massacre; and generally Cold War tensions were rising. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, the West was on the defensive. As Macmillan had written prophetically to Norman Brook, the cabinet secretary, at the end of 1959: “Africans are not the problem in Africa, it is the Europeans.” As the Zambian Timothy Kankasa said subsequently of the official inquiry into the crash “all the black witnesses were supposed to be unreliable”. Acceptable evidence agreed with the official stance that it was an accident. There was no lack of high placed suspects and Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA, was to remark almost casually that Hammarskjold had been removed because he was becoming troublesome. Ironically, given CIA involvement in the murder of Lumumba, a CIA spokesman said at a later date, “The notion that the CIA was behind the death of the former UN Secretary-General is absurd and without foundation.” But Harry S Truman, former US president, reportedly told the press, “Dag Hammarskjold was on the point of getting something done (to prevent the break-up of the Congo) when they killed him. Notice that I said, ‘When they killed him’.” The desire to kill Hammarskjold clearly existed in the ranks of Western politicians and African white racists. Both Lumumba and Hammarskjold were killed because they sought to protect the integrity of the Congo and the self-determination of its people free from the greed and interference of foreign powers. Who gave the orders has yet to be determined though Susan Williams provides plenty of pointers. Suspects include the governments of Britain, Belgium, the United States, South Africa and Rhodesia as well as the multinationals whose grip on the Congo’s resources was a major western interest. Many people round the world suspected sabotage (of the plane) or assassination.
Despite the author’s painstaking research and disclosure of evidence that indicates most of the likely suspects, the death of Hammarskjold represents one of the great unresolved mysteries of the 20th century. The book is a notable achievement.