Belgian Congo 1960. A time of great upheaval and uncertainty at the height of the Cold War, African independence movements, political assassinations, provincial secessions, the quest for pure uranium and white mercenary movements. A revolutionary time, largely forgotten today, that shaped the future of the world's most tragic country. On the evening of September 17, 1961, Dag Hammarskjold boarded a DC-6 in Leopoldville, Congo (now Kinshasa) and settled in his seat. The UN Secretary-General was heading to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to meet with Moise Tshombe, leader of the breakaway Congolese province of Katanga to negotiate an end to the Congo crisis. As the small twin-prop plane climbed in the dark sky, the Swedish diplomat took out his papers, and began to prepare for the critical meeting. Shortly after midnight, the aircraft was cleared for landing, and circled the tiny airport twice. Minutes later the plane, engulfed in flames, plunged to the African bush below. Hammarskjold and his aides were thrown from the crash, which occurred about four miles from Ndola. He and twelve others were killed; the one survivor, UN security guard Harold M. Julian, died from severe burn injuries fifteen hours later. As he lay in agony, Julian described a series of explosions preceding the crash, and stated that Hammarskjold himself had ordered the pilot to change direction and fly to a new destination immediately before the explosions. Conspiracy theories began circulating within hours of the disaster; with many saying the diplomat had been murdered to prevent him from accomplishing his mission of bringing peace to Congo. Despite an official inquiry at the time, Hammarskjold's death has been shrouded in mystery for nearly sixty years. Last month Ban Ki-moon, current secretary-general of the UN, reopened the investigation; citing compelling evidence that the plane may have been shot down. Crisis in the Congo illuminates the fascinating and complex situation that led to Hammarskjold's fateful journey. Written as historical fiction, Bell weaves actual and fictitious characters into a multifaceted story, bringing to life the Republic of Congo's tumultuous transition from colony to independent nation. Opening in October 1959 at the height of the Cold War, the story follows Richard Penderel, a starry-eyed optimist who joins the CIA following the Korean War. Penderel is posted to the Belgian Congo, gets swept up into the conflict, falls in love with the wife of a Belgian agent; and ultimately becomes disillusioned with the realities of his responsibilities, and his realization that evil does exist. The story interweaves political upheavals, secessionist movements, assassinations, foreign white mercenaries, and the quest for pure uranium to frame the turbulent events of that heartbreaking independence period. Penderel's journey tragically collides with Secretary-General Hammarskjold on the evening of September 17, 1961 as they fly to Ndola to seek peace for this crisis in the Congo. During the twenty-two month period covered in the book, eighteen sub-Saharan countries gained independence. While the vast majority were peaceful transitions, the Republic of Congo's story was fraught with violence and political intrigue, events from which the country has still not fully recovered. Today the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) remains one of the most dangerous and politically unstable places on the planet. Over the past two decades, the continuing civil war has claimed the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people; making it the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.
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