1. Mysterious Plane Crash
On the night of September 17-18, 1961, Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld, the illustrious Swedish diplomat who was serving as the second United Nations (UN) Secretary-General and 15 members of his entourage were killed in a horrific plane crash as their United Nations aircraft called ‘Albertina’ approached Ndola (Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe) Airport in Northern Rhodesia(Zambia). Secretary General Hammarskjöld remains to date the only UN chief executive officer who died on the job.
2. Hammarskjöld the Innovator
Hammarskjöld was performing what he characterized as the Good Offices Function of the UN Secretary-General in resolving a conflict with the potential to endanger international peace and security. Hammarskjöld defined the good offices function as the Secretary-General’s capacity to deploy the assets of his/her office namely ‘moral authority, personal prestige and diplomatic legitimacy/impartiality’ in a conflict to persuade the protagonists to abandon armed hostilities, in favour of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.
This was an example of Hammarskjöld’s outstanding qualities as a leader and an innovator. He expansively interpreted the UN Charter (Article 97), which simply designates the Secretary-General as the UN’s ‘Chief Administrative Officer,’ to broaden the office holder’s diplomatic and peace-making role without waiting for UN Security Council ‘permission.’
After his death, Secretary-General Hammarskjold was described by US President, late John F Kennedy, as the “greatest statesman of our century.” He was a man with a vision of the UN as a “dynamic instrument” organizing the world community, a protector of small nations, independent of the major powers, acting only in the interests of peace.
3. Crisis in the Congo
Hammarskjöld was flying from Leopoldville, the capital of the newly independent war-scarred Republic of Congo, where he had had discussions with Congolese authorities; to Ndola to meet Moise K. Tshombe, leader of the breakaway territory of Katanga. Earlier that year, Congo’s charismatic Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba had been assassinated in a plot masterminded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). UN peace-keeping troops had come under fire from Tshombe’s forces and the Secretary-General was anxious to put an end to the fighting. The UN Commission of Inquiry that investigated the crash arrived at an open verdict as to what caused Hammarskjöld’s death.
Thus, emanating from this verdict, the United Nations General Assembly adopted on October 26, 1962, UN General Assembly Resolution 1759, which invited successor Secretaries-General to re-open the inquiry should fresh evidence come to light. Since the publication in 2011 of the book; ‘Who killed Hammarskjöld?’ by British academic Dr Susan Williams, pressure has been mounting on the United Nations to re-open the Hammarskjöld inquiry.
The book reinforces the hypothesis that Hammarskjöld was the victim of great powers’ intrigues and plotting, as they jostled over who would win control of the Congo’s vast mineral resources. Conspiracy theories range from the Secretary-General’s plane being accidentally shot down by pro-Tshombe mercenaries; to sightings of a second plane which allegedly shot down Hammarskjöld’s plane.
4. The Overarching Need for closure
Thus the decision by 9th UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a former Chief Justice of Tanzania Mohamed Chande Othman, to review potential new information, including from South Africa, on the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, is a welcome development .It will be recalled that an independent panel appointed by ex-UN Chief Ban Ki Moon, reviewing new information about the crash said in July 2015 that the United States and Britain retained some classified files, and that South Africa had not responded to several requests for information. The panel also cited documents from the South African Institute for Maritime Research that refer to "Operation Celeste," purportedly to "remove" Hammarskjold with cooperation from then U.S. CIA director Allen Dulles.
It is high time that closure is attained on this case. The World needs to know who was responsible for Secretary-General Hammarskjöld’s untimely death in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in September, 1961.
By Dr Njunga- Michael MULIKITA
The author is Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Mulungushi University, Zambia 3rd public university, Kabwe, Zambia. He has previously worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (Ethiopia & South Sudan), African Training & Research Center in Administration for Development (CAFRAD) (Morocco) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (Ethiopia). Dr. Mulikita was a Visiting United Nations University (UNU) Scholar in 1999)