The Kenya Forum | Hammarskjold, The Hague And The Elvis Factor - The Kenya Forum

September 25, 2011


Dag Hammarskjold was the Secretary General of the United Nations who in September, 1961, was killed in a DC-6 aircraft that crashed at about near Ndola airport in what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia

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Hammarskjold, The Hague And The Elvis Factor

Hammarskjold, The Hague And The Elvis Factor

Tales of intrigue, murder and mystery, we just love them. Just mix in a few claims and counter-claims, a surprise witness or two, some overheard conversations and minutes of secret meetings, dose with a generous amount of money changing hands, add a drop or two of espionage and don’t forget a splash of Machiavellian machinations by foreign powers, and you’ve got it: a recipe for selling newspapers, books and political opponents down the river.

The Forum too is partial to this dish but let us add a little salt of reason to cure the beef of a least a couple of stories that have broken in the last week.


Few Forum readers will know the name Dag Hammarskjold who died fifty years ago last week, or why the story of his death should still be of interest five decades after it happened.

Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary General of the United Nations who on the night of the 17-18 September, 1961, was a passenger in a DC-6 aircraft that crashed at about 1am near Ndola airport in what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia and which is now the sovereign state called Zambia. All 16 people on board were killed, or eventually died, as a result of the crash, including Mr Hammarskjold, who became the only UN Secretary General to have died while still in office.

Investigations by the UN, and by the US, British, German and Swedish intelligence services, all concluded that the crash resulted from pilot error as the plane came in to land.

So there the story lay quietly undisturbed for most of the last half century until recently, as reported in the Sunday Nation (‘Call for new probe 50 years after UN chief’s death’, September 18) and the Standard on Sunday (‘New allegations on the death of former UN boss’, September 25), it rose from the grave.

An investigation by Goran Bjorkdahl, an aid worker for the Swedish International Development Agency, and a book entitled ‘Who Killed Hammarskjold’ by a British author Susan Williams, argue that the UN Chief was killed after the plane he was traveling in was shot down by a jet fighter.

The motive for the murder the two claim, was Hammarskjold’s support for the newly independent Congolese government’s campaign to crush an uprising in Katanga that had been funded by Western mining companies. The ‘West’ wanted to keep control of the mineral rich area, so the theory goes, so Hammarskjold had to go.

It’s a great story worthy of Frederick Forsyth at his best (try ‘The Dog’s of War’). It might even be true. Perhaps all those UN and intelligence agency investigations were just part of a cover up, the Forum doesn’t know, but we do urge a note of caution before everyone gets carried away.


Part of the evidence that Goran Bjorkdahl uses to sustain his thesis is derived from interviews with local and now elderly villagers, who say they witnessed the DC-6 being shot down.

Now as many savvy Kenyans will know, we’ve been down this route before. To pick just one example: in 1990 there was only really one witness who saw anything the night Dr Robert Ouko was murdered, his maid Selina Were, who said she saw a white car turning at the bottom of the minister’s drive in the early hours of the morning. Fourteen years later and Gor Sunguh’s Parliamentary Committee ‘investigating’ the murder of Ouko uncovered many eye witnesses who claimed to have seen a great cast of characters at Ouko’s house that night, plus 25 Government Service Unit officers in support.

In all, Gor Sunguh named some 47 people involved with Ouko’s murder and an alleged cover up. It was a surprise that Elvis Presley and Lee Harvey Oswald weren’t named as being part of the plot.

The point is, Mr Bjorkdahl and Ms Williams may have a case to make but we Kenyans will be a little skeptical of it if it is based on elderly villagers suddenly saying what they saw of the event (in the dark) nearly 50 years after it happened. And what were they asked? Were they asked, “What did you see?” or were they asked, “Did you see a jet shoot down the other plane?” The two questions could have, in all likelihood, resulted in quite different answers.


And so for a very short visit to The Hague where towards the end of last week the International Criminal Court (ICC) hearings moved on to consider the case against Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Civil Service Head Francis Muthaura and former Police Commissioner Major-General Hussein Ali.

Central to allegations being made against the three is that they directed and coordinated post-election violence in 2007-08 perpetrated by the ‘Mungiki’ [for non-Kenyans, the Mungiki is a banned criminal-politico-religious group originating from the Kikuyu dominated Mount Kenya region]. In particular, the prosecution stated that 100 Mungiki thugs were armed at State House, Nakuru, and sent on their way to wreak havoc with the Luo and Kalenjin.

‘The Mungiki factor’ ran the The Standard’s front page headline last Friday; ‘Uhuru paid MP’s, Mungiki Sh3.3m for attacks’ that of The Star; ‘Uhuru’s ‘private army’’, was The Nation’s headline on the same day.

Well, again, maybe they did and maybe they didn’t, the Forum doesn’t know, and perhaps evidence will be brought to light of organised violence and wrongdoing but we are, again, skeptical of the claims of ‘private armies’ and Mungiki bands at State House.

Claims of the existence of ‘private armies’ and ‘warriors’ have been standard fare in the past which have pretty much been proven to be baseless (see Forum posting, ‘The Kenyan Human Rights Commission Report, Part 5: Kiliku, Akiwumi, Tribal Clashes and the faces of impunity’) and are we really to believe that Kenyatta (and Kibaki) would have been so stupid as to somehow bring a mass of Mungiki fighters into State House without thinking they would be detected?

The Hague hearings have a few days to go yet. Watch this space, Elvis Presley and Lee Harvey Oswald may yet be cited….


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