Nightline Congo Series, Part 1

ByABC News

Jan. 21, 2001 -- Following is a transcript of the first part of the Nightline series "Heart of Darkness."

TED KOPPEL, ABCNEWS (VO) At the heart of the continent, genocide in a tiny country, a genocide that horrified the world, brought chaos to a country almost 100 times its size, and you probably haven’t heard a word. Young boys serving time in prisoner of war camps with mass murderers. You think that’s bad? It’s the best thing that’s happened to them in years. What these children have endured is almost unimaginable. She resisted when soldiers were kidnapping children from her village. Animals that have always been protected have been slaughtered by people who simply need the meat. It has claimed more lives than all the other current wars around the world combined. But outside of Africa, no one seems to have noticed. Three years, two and a half million dead. We thought someone should tell you. Tonight, the first in a weeklong series: Still the Heart of Darkness.

ANNOUNCER From ABCNEWS, this is Nightline. Now reporting, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Maybe it takes the eruption of a volcano, something enormous and horrifying, but visible. Maybe that’s the only way. Perhaps we needed the spectacle this past weekend of 300,000 desperate people fleeing into Rwanda—into Rwanda, of all places. Maybe that’s what it takes to recapture our attention, to focus our empathy, to reignite the international flow of aid.

(OC) It’s been eight years already, but you remember what happened in Rwanda: 800,000 possibly a million people killed. And then, a tidal wave of refugees, another million or so, pouring out of Rwanda and into eastern Congo, smothering the city of Goma in human misery. Goma. That’s where you’ve heard the name before.

(VO) The same Goma which was covered last Friday in molten lava, was, in 1994, inundated by refugees from Rwanda. Now, as then, health authorities are trying to keep the population from drinking water from the polluted lake. Only now the water purification plants have been destroyed. Then, as my ABC colleague Jim Wooten so eloquently reported, the water plants were simply overwhelmed.

JIM WOOTEN, ABCNEWS (VO) Lake Kivu, cool and inviting, but contaminated now by these multitudes of refugees gathered here like so many vacationers at some island resort. And thousands more trek the road for hours and miles every day to fill their cans and take them back to their families in the camps. They do not know what they’ve done to the water. They drink it as though it were pure. It is pure poison. It is all too much. A calamity of such epic proportions, so massive in size and scope, the truth of it is far beyond journalism’s reach.

TED KOPPEL Hard to believe, but almost eight years have passed since, for a few intense weeks, we did devote our full attention on the aftermath of the genocide, when another million desperate refugees, mostly Hutu this time, fleeing the reprisal of an army of avenging Rwandan Tutsis, poured into Goma.

(VO) The humanitarian need was so great that we paid little attention to the identity of the refugees. Most of them were Hutu, who’d had nothing to do with the genocide. But tens of thousands of the actual killers were hiding among them. And what has happened between then and the eruption of that volcano a few days ago has actually taken a larger human toll than the disasters at either end.

(OC) In this region, it’s sometimes referred to as the first African World War. We had planned to tell you that story the week of September 11th. Our own tragedy caused us to delay this series. That, after all, was the day when 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center alone. In the Congo, almost that many people have died each and every day for more than three years now. That is the story we will tell you this week.

(VO) This is how we’re accustomed to seeing are our war dead, laid out in neat cemetery rows. Here in the Congo, though, where this many people die of war-related injury, disease or starvation every day, cemeteries are an exception. Take a look down there. What do you see? We know that hundreds of thousands of Congolese have been driven by war into the jungles, and that they die there of malnutrition and cholera and malaria. Can we see them? Not from up here. But down there, there are no roads to drive. And down there are the armies from a half dozen or more neighboring nations and at least three different rebel groups making the river so dangerous that no one dares to travel by boat. You would think that finding the evidence of two and a half million Congolese who have died over the past four years would be easy. But they are not lying by the side of the road. And life, hard as it is in the Congo, is a distraction. But perhaps if we follow the living, they will help us understand what happened to the dead.

They call these homemade scooters chikudus. In Goma, where the refugees from Rwanda came by the hundreds of thousands seven years ago, young men come swooping down rough inclines, carrying lumber or produce or bundles of bamboo strapped to their chikudus. But there is a hard logic to the value of a man’s labor, better illustrated, perhaps, by the effort required to push one of these scooters loaded with 400 or 500 pounds of produce up a hill. If there are many men, but not much work to be done, the price of labor is very cheap, indeed. This is what it takes to earn a dollar or two a day. This is what marks the line between starvation and survival in the Congo. So there was absolutely no way when 900,000 Hutu refugees flooded this town back in 1994, there was no way that Goma could carry the load.

BRENDA BARTON Fifty thousand people died within the first month.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Brenda Barton was here in ’94. She’s a Canadian working now, as she did then, for the United Nations’ World Food Program.

BRENDA BARTON To the humanitarian agencies, our job was simply to try and save them in that moment.

TED KOPPEL We had the sense that the vast preponderance of the refugees were innocent people and there were maybe a few of the killers among them. Do you have any idea what the numbers were?

BRENDA BARTON I don’t think anyone still really knows what the numbers are. There’s been numbers that have been bandied around, but perhaps it was one tenth of the population maximum. So one tenth of 900,000 people—million people...

TED KOPPEL And So you’re talking about 90,000 killers in that group?

BRENDA BARTON Yes. Which is a huge number. It was clear there was no political will to go in and break up those camps. And humanitarian agencies, we couldn’t individually make a decision that people should be disarmed and go in there and try and take their arms away from them. That had to come from Western powers. That had to come from the developed world. And there was no political will.

TED KOPPEL (VO) So the Western world poured its energy, its logistical resources and its money, about $1 million worth of aid each and every day, into these camps, where most of it was stolen by thugs, killers. Some of the world’s most generous charitable organizations inadvertently became quartermasters, outfitters, suppliers, to an army of Hutu militiamen who call themselves the Interhamway, which means ‘those who kill together.’

(OC) In French, they’re called the ‘genocidaires’ those who committed the genocide. And that was just the beginning of the latest sequence of horrors.

ANNOUNCER This is ABCNEWS: Nightline, brought to you by...

(Commercial break)

TED KOPPEL (VO) He’s been living and fighting in the jungle. Perhaps he was captured. Probably he surrendered. He has malaria. A few more weeks without medicine, food, shelter, he would have been dead. In this POW camp, he’ll live.

(OC) We’re just inside Rwanda about 20 miles from the border with Congo. Within this camp, on this day at least, about 630 prisoners.

(VO) In this place, they have a roof over their heads, three simple meals a day, and some very basic medical care. What provokes a certain cautious disbelief is the fact that among the men and boys enjoying this relatively gentle confinement, are some of the killers who took part in the Rwanda genocide seven years ago. After the media left, after the world stopped paying attention, the Tutsi-led Rwandan army broke up the Hutu refugees camps and launched an all-out military campaign against the Interhamway, the Hutu militia, which fled into the Congo. That was how the latest catastrophe began. We’ll let you hear the victims in their own words.

(OC) Can you tell me what happened when the Interhamway came to your village?

1ST GIRL (Foreign language spoken)


The came to my house and forced me to carry their supplies they caught me and they cut me.

TED KOPPEL They—they hit you in the head? Is that what happened to you?

TRANSLATOR (Foreign language spoken)

1ST GIRL (Foreign language spoken)



TED KOPPEL What happened to your—what happened to your hand?

TRANSLATOR (Foreign language spoken)

1ST GIRL (Foreign language spoken)


The Hutu militia.

TED KOPPEL Why did they do that?

TRANSLATOR (Foreign language spoken)

1ST GIRL (Foreign language spoken)


I don’t know.

TED KOPPEL (VO) What the children of this region have seen and done and had done to them goes against nature itself. This girl was 11 when she was kidnapped.

2ND GIRL (Foreign language spoken)


They came at night and took us to the forest of Walikale. They made us into concubines and did bad things to us. Others died.

TED KOPPEL How long were you with them?

TRANSLATOR (Foreign language spoken)

2ND GIRL (Foreign language spoken)


Five years.

TED KOPPEL (VO) In the face of such widespread brutality and sickness and deprivation, this prisoner-of-war camp tucked away in the hills of Rwanda can seem like a sanctuary. That would be an illusion. But the Hutu in this country are a majority. They cannot all be executed or imprisoned. Even suspected killers will have to be reintegrated into society. And some of the prisoners are, after all, nothing more than children. Many were, themselves, kidnapped to work as porters for the Hutu militia.

Seven years after the genocide, the Tutsis, who have regained power, are still dealing with the forces that tried to exterminate them. Their army has kept tens of thousands of Hutu militiamen across the border and on the run in the Congo. The ones who come back, the ones they capture: ‘We don’t want to keep you in prison,’ the lecturer tells them. ‘We want to reintegrate you into society.’ Does he mean it? Maybe not, but it’s the only available option.

(Group singing)

TED KOPPEL (VO) ‘We thank our captors,’ they sing. ‘We are well taken care of. We are happy.’ Do they mean it? Maybe not. But they have no available options either.

(Commercial break)

TED KOPPEL (VO) Tourists don’t come here anymore. They used to come in droves, especially after the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” was released. Some of the film was shot in this region, but it’s much too dangerous now for tourists and for the gorillas.

(OC) In this place, the words genocide and ecocide not only co-exist, they are closely related to one another. The attempt, in 1994, to exterminate the Tutsi people in Rwanda has led, among many, many other deaths, to this grim tableau of elephant and gorilla skulls. And this is only a small part of what lies inside.

(VO) Before the park was officially closed to tourists in 1998, this used to be a visitors center. Now it’s a storage room for skulls. As disturbing as these pictures are, what they represent is even more troubling. When hundreds of thousands of people are starving, the elephants and the gorillas in the park are seen quite simply as food. Kasharaka Vishi Quabo (ph) is the park’s chief warden.

Mr. KASHARAKA VISHI QUABO: (Foreign language spoken)


They started to kill the gorillas in 1966. There were 258 gorillas, and now there are 130. All the elephants have been killed. There were 350, and all of them are dead.

TED KOPPEL (VO) In some cases, the Hutu militiamen have killed elephants and gorillas for meat. And since the game wardens are afraid of venturing into areas of the park controlled by the militia, the animals are also unprotected from poachers among the refugees. There are 132 rangers who live and work at the park, although they haven’t been paid in almost five years, and the buildings in which they live have during that time been looted and burned down twice by militiamen. They are doing the best they can to protect the remaining gorillas. They track some of the families on a daily basis. Would they, we wondered, take one of our digital cameras and record what they saw? We would pay them, we said. We’ll show you what they found in a few minutes.

But first, we need to take a detour to illustrate a problem. We don’t have a pile of human bodies to show you. People are dying here in the eastern Congo at the rate of 2500 a day, and most of what we saw looks like a damn picture postcard. This Tutsi village, for example, lies nestled against lush green hills. The huts look new. They are. These people are all refugees. They’ve been on the run for four years. They just built the huts, and now they are hoping that the soldiers in that army camp across the valley will protect them from the Hutu militia raids, which tend to come at harvest time. The gardens are overflowing with crops, not quite ready to be harvested. It looks as though there’s plenty of food. It just can’t be eaten yet.

At first glance, everyone looks healthy enough, but take a look inside this tent. The children are all malnourished. A private donor has just made a food delivery, but the United Nations won’t resupply this village because it’s not an established refugee camp. It’s important to remember the inside of this tent when you look at the outside of the village.

The Congo is beautiful, spectacularly so, but every beautiful thing you see seems to have a dark side. The rangers at the Kahuzi Biega National Park did well with our digital camera. They found one of the gorilla families they’ve been tracking. And our amateur cameraman, with only 15 minutes worth of training, brought back this extraordinary video. They are magnificent, and they are being killed off at an alarming rate. It is a genuine ecological tragedy. But you are looking at these gorillas with one set of eyes and a full stomach. To the hundreds of thousands of starving refugees surrounding this national park, to people desperate to feed their families, the gorillas are just food.

Back with a closing thought in a moment.

(Commercial break)

TED KOPPEL (VO) The guns, the knives, the machetes, they did their dirty business here and continue to do so. But the worst killers in a war let you walk up right next to them. They can glisten and sparkle and lap up gently at your feet like Lake Kivu back there, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Central Africa, salvation, so it must have seemed to the hundreds of thousands of parched refugees who have camped at its shores these last few years. But it’s a cesspool, literally. Thousands of tons of human waste have been dumped in this lake. The hot sun has effectively turned the outer rim of Lake Kivu into a Petri dish for cholera. Here’s one of your mass killers: The war drove the victims here; the lake has finished many of them off. Beautiful, isn’t it?

That’s our report for tonight. I’m Ted Koppel in Bukavu. For all of us here at ABCNEWS, good night.