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The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame
Aired October 8, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, from a region of the earth on the brink. Tonight, a special edition of "360," "The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame."
ANNOUNCER: It's happen so far away, but it affects all of us. There, in plain sight, tremendous suffering, millions dead, the numbers unthinkable. But not when you're there. The violence can stop. People can go home. The sick can be healed. But now, there is only fear and hopelessness, from the killers to the camps, to the desperation in a young child's eyes.
This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame."
COOPER: Thanks for joining us for this special edition of 360. We're in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's a country in the heart of Africa. It is the richest nation on the continent in terms of natural resources. And yet it is at the center of unimaginable and needless suffering.
Over the last eight years, some 4 million people have died in the Congo from war, disease, hunger -- 4 million people. Now among survivors, some 70 percent of households, especially here in rural areas, face malnutrition. It's perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world right now.
Next to Congo is Sudan, the largest country in Africa. And right now the United States says genocide is taking place there in the Darfur region. Thousands of men, women and children have been slaughtered. And if nothing is done to stop the ethnic cleansing, many, many more people will likely die.
This is a region of the world at a crossroads between the hope for progress and peace and the horror of the abyss.
Over the next hour, we're going to take a close look at what is happening here from all of the angles.
We begin with the casualties of war. It is, in fact a hallmark of the war in the Congo, the reality of rape. Every year, thousands of Congolese mothers and daughters and grandmothers are raped, victimized often by men in uniform, often by groups, gang rapes. Sometimes their families are forced to watch. It is a harsh reality. And we want to warn you, the stories that you're about to hear are hard to listen to, but they are facts of life here, and we believe the world needs to know.
COOPER (voice-over): At a busy hospital in Goma a silent little girl sits on a stoop. She's 5 years old now, but still cannot speak of the terrible thing that happened to her.
Two years ago, when she was just 3, she was gang raped by soldiers.
(on camera): The children as young as 3 years old getting raped.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 3 years old. Yes.
COOPER: That's -- it's crazy.
(voice-over): Dr. Luc Malemo has a hospital ward full of girls and women who have been raped and developed fistulas, holes in their vaginas or rectums that make it impossible to control bodily functions.
(on camera): Why do so many rape victims here develop fistulas?
DR. LUC MALEMO, HEAL AFRICA: We think that there is -- the first reason, that the rape is too violent. Some of them, they really suffer. After raping them, they use maybe, they may use weapons, a knife or even a piece of wood and some of them have been shot after being raped.
COOPER: So, women aren't just getting raped, and they're not just getting gang-raped; they're -- they're often being shot internally afterward, or people putting objects inside them.
(voice-over): Doctor Malemo is able to repair the physical damage done by rape in some 70 percent of cases. But some wounds, physical and psychological, are impossible to heal.
ANGELA, RAPE VICTIM (through translator): I was raped by three men, soldiers. They also shot me in my right arm. When it was happening, I thought I was dying. I was seeing death in front of me. I didn't think I would live.
COOPER: Angela was raped in front of her children.
(on camera): This is all the burn?
(voice-over): She says her attackers also burned her daughter, Godaliv (ph). We agreed to protect their identities because of the stigma still associated with rape in the Congo.
ANGELA (through translator): People in the neighborhood just point fingers and say, you are a raped women, and you are infected with AIDS.
COOPER: Angela lives in a compound with her three children and other rape survivors, who say they can't go home. They're supported by a charity called Heal Africa. (on camera): This is the one meal that Angela's kids will probably have today. She and her children have been living here in Goma for the last five months. Angela would like to be able to return to her home village, but that's simply impossible.
The men who raped her are likely still living in the area. They, of course, have never been brought to justice. And she really has no home to go back to. Her husband has now kicked her out of the house, because she was gang-raped.
ANGELA (through translator): He heard I was raped. He just said, go on your own. I don't need you anymore. If we live together, you now might have HIV, so, you might infect me.
COOPER (voice-over): Like many rape survivors here, Angela's future is, at best, uncertain.
ANGELA (through translator): The only thing I need is some land, so I can build a house. I might die, and I want my kids to have that castle. I'm hoping for a miracle.
COOPER: There are few miracles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The men who rape are rarely brought to justice. And the women who survive must simply try to heal.
COOPER: We met a lot of children since we arrived here in the Congo. Almost half on the population is younger than 15.
Being a child here in the Congo may be the hardest thing on earth. One in five dies before the age of 5. The rate is even higher here in the eastern provinces. Those who survive, well they get no breaks at all. Four million have been orphaned and tens of thousands have been forced to join militias.
So many of the children here have suffered unimaginable losses and abuse. They've seen things that no child should ever see. Their scars are deep. You have to wonder, can they be healed?
Here's CNN's Sanjay Gupta.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're looking at a secret compound in a remote village. Safe refuge for these girls who can now sing of power and peace.
Not long ago, they were outcasts, most left for dead.
They were part of rebel militia groups, recruited involuntarily as fighters, couriers, mostly as sex slaves. They are now recovering.
We filmed them in the most unobtrusive way possible. They don't want their faces to be shown.
(on camera): What is the worst thing that you saw happen, either to yourself or to somebody that you knew?
(voice-over): Seeing the dead bodies of her friends, she tells us. This girl says she was a human shield, sent to the front lines of a war. Another girl tells me that she was raped by several men and then her boyfriend was killed. Another adds, we were all raped. Every single one of us, she says.
(on camera): When they sat down with me, all five say this is the first time they have spoken openly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): After I was kidnapped, one week later, I was sent to the front with a weapon. I fought for four years.
GUPTA (voice-over): Talking, they believe, will help work through their demons. The staff at the center encourages it. But they take it even one step further.
Take a look at this. It's almost incredible. These girls are actually acting out what happened to them. Girls shot at pointblank range. Crackling water bottles flying through the air. I'm told they represent bombs or grenades. And lots and lots of dead bodies all tossed in a heap.
How do we not...
JENNIFER MELTON, SOCIAL WORKER: Retraumatize? I think, again, that's another thing that's very individually based, that you allow them the time, you allow the opportunity. Each person does that at their own timing.
For some people they want to talk about it immediately. For other people you might sit and visit with them on 10 visits at their home and then that's when it'll start coming out. So, I think it's about having patience and perseverance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I had been kidnapped, and felt hopeless. Then I heard about a center like this and wanted to find it. I wanted to restart my life. I wanted hope.
GUPTA: So how do you offer any sort of hope to outcasts? Girls who are so unimaginably damaged?
Jill Denbeguni (ph) is a social worker at the center. To her, the answer is even more simple. Yes, it is important to share their pain and offer support, but in Congo you can't survive unless you have some sort of training, a skill set. For some a sewing machine could mean a bright, new future. Learning to sew, pure delight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I am happy to move on and forget what happened. I am very happy to be here and receive the training and activities like sewing.
GUPTA: The center has learned that teaching girls to sew, and then taking those goods to markets like this are crucial steps to rebuilding hope and confidence and getting the girls safely out on their own.
But that, too, takes time and patience. For now, the lost girls will talk and talk and act out their past until sewing and singing lets them find themselves again.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo.
COOPER: Well the sexual predators are not just army soldiers. They're also member of armed militia groups, rebel soldiers. There's no punishment for what they do to young girls and to women.
One of the militias here in the Congo, refusing to give up their weapons, is led by a rebel leader, a notorious warlord. He's accused of war crimes. He is a wanted man here, but we were able to find him with very little problems. Just about everyone in this country knows exactly where he lives.
COOPER (voice-over): In a rain soaked valley in eastern Congo, a rebel army sings of war. They may appear a motley bunch. Some have no shoes, others mismatched uniforms. But they do have weapons and the power to disrupt the Congo's fragile peace.
Their leader agreed to meet with us. But to find him, we had to travel to his remote hilltop hideout.
We're on our way to see General Laurent Nkunda. He's a rebel commander with several thousand troops. So far he's been unwilling to give up his weapons.
(on camera): He's been accused of a host of war crimes and human rights violations. His troops are known to have looted villages, raped women. He's been accused of ordering the summary executions of dozens of prisoners.
The Congolese government issued an international arrest warrant for him, but so far it seems no one's been able or willing to apprehend him.
(voice-over): General Nkunda controls about 1,200 square miles in eastern Congo, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island.
Getting to him, however, isn't easy. Checkpoints are everywhere and his soldiers are wary.
That's Jason Stearns. He's a Congo expert with the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization which monitors conflicts around the world.
JASON STEARNS, CONGO EXPERT, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: He says there's no problem. He's told the general we're coming.
COOPER: The soldiers get in one of our vehicles to show us the way. At General Nkunda's compound, security is tight. His soldiers are heavily armed.
COOPER (on camera): What is your plan?
GENERAL LAURENT NKUNDA, PREBEL LEADER: Our plan is that if the election will be conducted, we will talk with the one who will win the election. If there will be a disaster, we will be an alternative to protect the people and to relieve the situation.
COOPER: There have been allegations that you have committed war crimes, violated human rights. Is that true?
NKUNDA: In this area or out of this area?
COOPER: Out of this area. They say that in Kisangani in 2002 that you ordered the execution of 160 people. Is that true?
NKUNDA: Not true.
COOPER: They say that in 2004 there are allegations that in Bukabu (ph), your soldiers looted widespread, committed many rapes. In fact, human rights watch cites an incident of a woman being raped in front of her husband and her children. And one of your soldiers, they say, raped a 3-year-old child.
NKUNDA: No. It's ...
COOPER: So this stuff happened before you got here?
NKUNDA: Before I got there.
COOPER (voice-over): Despite his denials, abuses by General Nkunda's soldiers are well documented.
Jason Stearns was in the town of Bukabu when the general's soldiers took over.
What did you see?
STEARNS: Well, you see, walking through the neighborhoods at night, you hear people screaming left and right as soldiers breaking into houses, pillaging, personal friends of mine, close to mine, had their children raped...
COOPER: They were raping children?
STEARNS: They were raping children. His troops would.
COOPER: Aid workers believe hundreds of thousands have been victimized by soldiers from various armies and rebel groups.
While General Nkunda talks of reconciliation, his army continues to train for war. His officers get refresher courses in military tactics, like how to conduct an ambush. The U.N. is trying to get all of these militia troops to join a new national army, trying to get Congolese to think beyond their ethnic or tribal identity.
General Nkunda, however, wants his troops loyal to him.
He is one of the Congo's last remaining warlords, waiting for elections, positioning himself for whatever the future may bring.
COOPER: As the Congo tries to crawl out of the ashes, Darfur sinks further into ruin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's as if everything is being taken away from them. You have no more homes. You have no more land. You're abandoned here amongst all these other people that are in the same conditions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: A sea of suffering. From the refugees fleeing genocide, to the doctors trying to save their lives. That is coming up.
And later, a day in the life of an aide worker. It is one of the most dangerous jobs on the face of the earth.
You're watching, "The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame."
COOPER: We're in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country struggling to find peace after years of war, starvation and sickness has left some 4 million people dead.
If this is a nation that may be on the brink of peace, neighboring Sudan is one step closer to a void it may never climb out of.
Brian Steidle is a former Marine who found himself with a front row seat to genocide in Darfur. Two years ago, Steidle entered Darfur as one of three U.S. military observers working with the African Union. His mission, to assess the situation and report to superiors.
Here's his story, what he saw, in his own words and his own photos. We want to warn you, some of the images you'll see are graphic.
BRIAN STEIDLE, FORMER MARINE: Our job was to document the atrocities and to write reports. And part of those reports were taking photographs, photographic evidence, and implanting them inside of these reports.
We saw villages of up to 20,000 burnt to the ground; men, women, children, who had been killed.
We drove right into this place and jumped out of the cars and I was standing on a vertebrae and ribs. There was an area that was 50 meters by 50 meters where you couldn't walk without stepping on human bones.
There were people who had been dismembered, arms here, legs there, fractions of skulls. We had no idea how many people were there.
I don't even know how to describe it. I mean, the smell there, the smell of death, and just seeing these pieces of humans all over the place. I mean, it was, it was indescribable.
The Janjaweed would come in with the government troops. They would first of all push the people out. The people that wouldn't leave, they would kill. They'd call these people dogs. They'd call them slaves. They'd hack them down. They'd lock them in their huts, burn them alive.
We would sit down with these Janjaweed commanders, and we would ask them, what happened? They'd say, well, you know, what happened, happened. They had no remorse. It's as if when you looked in their eyes, you could tell that these people have no souls.
I was trained as a Marine. I mean, my job was to protect the innocent, to protect people who can't protect themselves by using a gun and my Marines behind me to go into a place and protect these people. And here I am thrown in a situation where all I have is camera and a notepad. And we felt completely helpless.
The one photograph, they're the series of photographs that I took after the attack on the village of Aliette (ph), are the ones that have stuck with me the most. And it was this 1-year-old girl named Mihad Hami (ph). Mihad had been whipped on the side of her neck, shrapnel in her head and a bullet wound to her back, entry and exit wound.
She wasn't breathing really well at the time. And most likely she had died overnight. And this, the entire reason that I'm in this is because, well the one thing I always go back to is Mihad, a 1-year- old girl, as innocent as you possibly can be, was shot by the government of Sudan simply because of what her tribe was.
These types of atrocities should not happen in this day and age. And they are happening right now. They're happening on our watch. And we are doing nothing to stop it.
It's never too late. I mean, as long as there are still people that are alive that are being killed right now as we speak, it's never too late.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: For those who are able to escape Darfur, then what? For many, it means life as a refugee, living day to day in a mud hut without enough food or clean water.
Also, for those trying to bring relief, how nature is making a man-made crisis even tougher for aide workers.
You're watching, "The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: I'm standing on top of a car, on a car that has now been stuck in a river bed. We have to cross over what used to be a road to actually get to some of eastern Chad's most populated refugee camps.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Welcome back to this 360 special, "The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame."
We're told the civil war in the Congo is over, but the fighting hasn't stopped. Caring for the wounded is an overwhelming challenge. The health system here has pretty much collapsed, and medical relief groups struggle to deliver care amid the chaos.
We saw that firsthand, where the fight to save a soldier's life was just beginning.
COOPER (voice-over): In a small clinic in the Congo's countryside, a wounded soldier waits for help. His hand has been ripped apart by a gunshot wound.
The clinic, however, is poorly equipped. They don't even have painkillers. Luckily for the soldier, a French medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, runs a nearby hospital. They already have an ambulance on the way.
The war here officially ended in 2003, but there's been sporadic fighting ever since. There's a number of militia groups refusing to give up their weapons.
(on camera): There's bandits who are armed looking to make a few bucks. And there's government soldiers who are poorly trained, poorly educated and in many cases have not been paid a regular salary for months.
(voice-over): It is a dangerous combination and bloodshed is common.
GUILLAUME LE DUC, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: We see about 10 to 20 gunshot wounds every month. COOPER: The team from MSF gets to work as soon as they arrive.
I'm dying, I'm dying, he shouts.
LE DUC: In the Congo, a lot of people die. And you see the big numbers. Some people die from fighting, but a lot of people die from the consequences of fighting. They have to pay about a dollar for the basic consultation, which is a lot of money.
COOPER: MSF doesn't charge patients for treatment, but this clinic is too crude. They need to get him to their hospital as quickly as possible.
(on camera): It's not clear exactly what happened to this soldier. He says he got into an argument with another soldier over a tire, ended up getting shot by that soldier in the hand.
He's obviously in a lot of pain. The wound is very severe on his hand. There's a good chance he'll lose it.
(voice-over): The medical team makes sure the soldier changes into civilian clothes and leaves his weapon behind. They don't want the local population to see a soldier in their ambulance and think they're taking sides in the Congo's conflict.
MSF will treat anyone, but they insist on remaining strictly neutral.
When they arrive at the hospital, things move quickly.
(on camera): The soldier's only been in the hospital for about five minutes, but he's already been brought into the operating room. He's been put under anesthesia, and now doctors are going to examine his hand closely to see if they have to amputate or if they'll be able to save it.
(voice-over): For doctors, it's a constant battle to keep the operating room sterile. Surgeon Jeane Risse (ph) cleans the soldier's lifeless hand and decides it's time to operate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a good look and I will try to keep the thumb and maybe one or two fingers. And if it's not possible, we have to amputate.
COOPER: This is just one of many operations Dr. Risse has performed this week. For doctors in the Congo, there is always plenty of work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of the violence, because of displacements, because of the armed groups here, you just have a lot of conditions that create complicated cases.
COOPER: The soldier's case turned out to be more complicated than Dr. Risse thought. After an hour and a half of surgery, he had to amputate his entire hand. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here to target mortality and try and reduce that as much as we can. We're just only a drop in the middle of this ocean of pain and suffering.
COOPER: That soldier lost his hand, but he may have been lucky. He, at least, survived. And the there were aide workers to make sure he did.
Getting the aid to people that need it is, at best a difficult journey; and at worst, virtually impossible. M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been traveling with UNICEF workers in Abeche, Chad.
GUPTA (voice-over): Providing aid to refugees along the war-torn Darfur border sometimes means just getting there. That is often much more difficult than it seems. With crossed fingers, landing on dirt runways.
As far as I can tell, this is a place civilization has forgotten.
On this day, the transnational highway -- yes, this is the best road in Chad, is suddenly flooded. It is the rainy season here in Chad, and you can see rivers like this literally popping up out of nowhere, making it very difficult for cars to pass along this road.
(on camera): This is supposed to be a road right here. Two things happen. One, it is difficult to get supplies into the refugee camps, but it also cuts down on some of the violence since the Janjaweed can't get to the refugees.
(voice-over): Today we think we can make it across and continue to the Gaga Camp on the Sudan border. We can't. Bad idea.
LAURA PEREZ, UNICEF: During five months of the year here in Chad, there's a rainy season which means that all the rivers are get filled with water. It makes it very difficult for us to cross those rivers and get all our supplies to the refugee camps and to the IDPs.
GUPTA: As the UNICEF trucks we are in start to sink, we struggle to stay afloat, climbing higher and higher.
(on camera): It is often very difficult to get to some of these refugee camps. Case in point, I'm standing on top of a car, on a car that has now been stuck in a river bed. We have to cross over this, what used to be a road, to actually get to some of eastern Chad's most populated refugee camps.
(voice-over): And here is a clear example of the real daily challenges that aide organizations face. Just getting across the road proves impossible. Finally, we give up.
Without a clear idea of just how deep the water is, we wade across. It's only chest-deep today, but the rainy season is still upon us.
As the water gets high, the refugee camp supplies get low. Cut off. Providing aid in a war-torn area sometimes means just getting there.
PEREZ: If we don't preposition materials ahead of that rainy season, materials such as vaccinations and medical equipment and food, it's very hard for us have access to the population that lives on the other side of the river.
GUPTA: Today, we don't even accomplish that.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Chad.
COOPER: For aide workers, the worst is yet to come. The reality sets in once they arrive at the camps and see the barely livable conditions and hear the stories of suffering. But they don't give up hope. They continue to help with the healing. That story is next.
And later, caught in the crossfire, Congo's mountain gorillas, breathtaking and beautiful, and these great apes could also soon be just a memory.
ANNOUNCER: It's happening so far away, but it affects all of us. There, in plain sight, tremendous suffering. Millions dead, the numbers unthinkable. But not when you're there. The violence can stop. People can go home. The sick can be healed. But now, there is only fear and hopelessness. From the killers to the camps to the desperation in a young child's eyes.
This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "The Killing Fields: Africa's Misery, the World's Shame."
COOPER: For aide workers, Darfur may be among the most dangerous places on earth. All they want to do is help, but first they must themselves learn to survive. Aide workers are targets. They're attacked. They're killed. What kind of person would risk their life? CNN's Jeff Koinange went to one tent city to find out.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They have come from comfortable surroundings far way, at enormous risk to themselves. Anne Cecile Mellet and Balginder Heer are part of a fast disappearing breed in this region, foreign aide workers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just, we have to continue to use as a treatment.
KOINANGE: Six months ago, Mellet was a pediatric nurse, making the rounds in one of Paris's leading hospitals, when she was offered an overseas assignment. She said yes even before she learned her destination would be Darfur.
ANNE CECILE MELLET, ACTION AGAINST HUNGER: For myself it was beginning to all my life change completely.
KOINANGE: In her native French, she comforts a young malnourished girl named Yasnina (ph). Don't worry, she tells Yasnina and her mother, it won't hurt. Yasnina is 13 months old and weighs just 15 pounds. That's what 6-month-old babies should weigh. What Yasnina really needs is an intravenous drip to build her up. The best they've got here is some high protein milk and an old plastic cup.
And then, there's the constant danger lurking both within and outside these refugee camps.
(on camera): Here's an interesting statistic for you. Ever since a peace deal was signed five months ago, 12 aide workers have been killed, all of them Sudanese nationals. That's more aide workers than in the entire history of this conflict. The foreigners too are feeling vulnerable that they could very well be next.
(voice-over): 31-year-old Balginder Heer was a researcher into tropical children's diseases for nearly a decade in London. She wanted to put her research into practice, and she chose to do it here. Her parents tried to talk her out of it.
BALGINDER HEER, ACTION AGAINST HUNGER: Of course, this is a conflict zone. It is dangerous. It's not as bad as people may imagine. It can be just as dangerous, if not worse, in some of the big major capitals around the world, like New York or London.
KOINANGE: She's also constantly aware that women here face an unusually great risk of being raped. She spends her nights in a protected compound, a 20-minute drive away.
HEER: Of course, when you hear about instants like this, it has huge shockwaves through the NGO and the U.N. agency communities, very traumatic. And it has huge impacts and direct impacts on the work that we do and how people feel here.
KOINANGE: Both admit what they do out here in the middle of nowhere in Africa is not suitable to everyone.
MELLET: We have nothing, no tools. We have nothing to work with them. So, what we have, we try to do our best.
HEER: Sometimes it can be very hard, especially when you lose a child. It can be very, very difficult.
KOINANGE: There are more than 14,000 aide workers in Darfur alone, and only 1,000 them are foreigners. The risks are huge. So are the rewards.
Jeff Koinange, CNN, Abushak (ph) Refugee Camp in north Darfur.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Here, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, despite an abundance of natural resources, the people who risk their lives mining its wealth are barely scratching out a living, while the armies and militias kill for control, and corrupt public officials reap rewards for looking the other way. That story's next.
And later, up close with gentle giants, Congo's gorillas. They are protected, but they are also under attack and not just by poachers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Despite all the difficulties of life here in Democratic Republic of the Congo, people find a way to survive. They're amazingly resilient.
It's market day in this village. There are hundreds of people here selling items. This woman is selling some vegetables, some tomatoes. Here, this woman is selling some beans. Most of the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo live on less than a dollar a day. So even if they don't have money to buy items here in the marketplace, they'll barter with each other. People find a way to survive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And that is a testament to the resilience of the Congolese people. On less than $1 a day, they do find a way to survive.
The tragedy is that it shouldn't be this way. This is actually the wealthiest nation in Africa, possessing vast supplies of natural resources and minerals. Minerals that you probably use every day in your life, like in your cell phone.
But the profits, they never make it to the people. Instead, the money is often used to line the pocks of corrupt businessmen.
COOPER (voice-over): A young miner descends into the earth, hoping to scratch out a living in the dangerous darkness below.
(on camera): It's pitch black in the mine. The ceiling of this mine is maybe 2-1/2 feet. You're literally crouching down, crawling through the mine.
(voice-over): Hunched over, sitting in a pool of water, we find 23-year-old Siva Jua (ph). The rocks he pulls from the ground earn him just a few dollars a day, but they've also created widespread corruption and helped fuel a civil war that resulted in more than 3 million deaths. Dozens of warring armies and militias have fought for control of Congo's natural resources. (on camera): This is a cassiterite mine. It's where tin comes from. We're probably about 100 feet or so inside a mountain in eastern Congo. The mine itself is a low-tech operation, but increasingly tin is used in high-tech products. Because of changes in environmental regulations, tin has replaced lead in circuit boards used in equipment like, well, like these cell phones. Chances are, if you use a cell phone, you're probably carrying a piece of the Congo with you.
(voice-over): In the last four years, the price of tin has more than doubled. You'd think that would be a great development for the cash-strapped Congo, but very little of the money paid for Congolese tin actually ends up benefiting the people here.
JASON STEARNS, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: It's a predator's state, so you have -- the customs officials are completely corrupt. It's an estimated 60 percent to 80 percent of customs are never embezzled, never get back to the people. You can blame the people who are doing it. They're doing it because they can and they can because there's no state, there's nobody to tell them not to.
COOPER: A 2005 report by the non-profit group Global Witness found most miners have to pay bribes to local police and military officials just to sell their tin.
(on camera): Much of the cassiterite or tin ore that's mined here is smuggled illegally into Rwanda and other neighboring African countries. Corrupt Congolese officials are paid to look the other way.
According to aide workers, the export of tin is worth at least $50 million. And the Congo should be profiting from that by taxing it, but so far, they're not.
(voice-over): The Congolese government says there is regulation, but the problem is enforcing it. The infrastructure is poor, so it's hard to prevent smugglers and looters from taking mineral resources out of the country illegally.
(on camera): Theoretically, I mean, the Congo, the government should be making this money and giving the money, you know, in services to people. That's just not happening.
STEARNS: The government provides almost no social services to the people; 98 percent of the education in the country is actually provided by the students, the cost of the education provided by the students themselves. I don't think the state provides next to anything for health or education, the roads.
COOPER: It's not just the illegal export of tin that's a problem. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in natural resources. Cobalt and copper is mined from here. That winds up in the lithium batteries that we use at home. Also, a mineral called coltan is mined here. That ends up in cell phones. There's also large mines for diamonds as well as for gold. (voice-over): For the miners themselves, the payoff is low, and the risks, huge. Last month a miner died here while trying to pump water out of one of the shafts.
It was the gas, Siva Jua says. The pump from the generator suffocated him. Siva Jua would like to quit, but he has a wife and child to support and knows of no other way to make a living.
A lot of us get old in this mine, he says. I want to make my money and go.
It is just one of the many tragedies in the Congo. Thanks to mismanagement and corruption, the mineral wealth that could be such a blessing remains in many ways a deadly curse.
COOPER: It's not just humans in danger here in the Congo. Gorillas are also in the crossfire. The fight to save them, when this special edition of 360 continues.
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PATRICK MEHLMAN, GORILLA EXPERT: His name is Umba (ph), and we think he's about 22, 24 year of age.
Let him pass. As long as he doesn't feel like we're doing anything threatening, he'll just walk right by us, as he did.
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COOPER: So someone, soldiers, or whomever, would just go and grab them from their families and try to, and then hope to sell them?
ALECIA LILLY, PRIMATE PSYCHOLOGIST: Exactly. But the worst thing is they had to kill significant numbers of their family members to get them.
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COOPER: With an estimated 38,000 people dying here every month from malnutrition and disease, humans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are obvious victims in this war-torn country.
But some of them, the not so obvious victims, are the gorillas of central Africa.
I took a trip up into the mountains to see these majestic animals for myself and learn why their future hangs in the balance.
COOPER (voice-over): After year of war and government neglect, nothing is easy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
To find the last remaining mountain gorillas, you have to drive for hours along bumpy dirt roads. Then, guarded by park rangers, hack your way through thick forests.
(on camera): There's only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the entire world, and all of them live in central Africa. They live in two distinct groups. One group of about 320 live on a mountain in Uganda. The others, about 380 of them, live here in the Virungas, a densely forested series of mountains that straddles Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
(voice-over): In Rwanda the mountain gorillas are the country's biggest tourist attraction, bringing in about $2 million a year.
But here, in the Congo, years of fighting having driven away the tourists. And since 1994, more than 100 of these park rangers have been killed.
(on camera): The gorillas, here in Democratic Republic of the Congo, are under threat from all sides. Farmers desperate for land are encroaching on their habitat. So are miners, who are exploiting the natural resources of the country. Miners also need food to eat, and so they hunt gorillas. They also set traps, snares for other animals that the gorillas get caught in.
(voice-over): Many gorillas have lost hands to snares. Others have died from subsequent infections, or been killed by poachers looking to steal baby gorillas and sell them on the black market.
The park rangers patrol every day searching for snares set by poachers.
(on camera): These guards protect the gorillas from hunters and poachers. But their salaries aren't being paid by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In fact, the government here can rarely pay anybody's salary. Salaries are picked up by the U.N. and a consortium of private conservation groups. But without these guards, it's likely many more gorillas would get killed.
(voice-over): After hiking for more than an hour, the park rangers find a nest where a family of gorillas spent the night. Nearby they discover food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Them bamboo shoots.
COOPER: Nearby, they discover food recently eaten by the gorillas.
A few feet away, in a small clearing, we get our first sight of the mountain gorillas. They're playing together.
(on camera): There's nine gorillas in this group and every gorilla group is headed by an adult male, called a silverback. That's the silverback right over there because of the distinctive coloring on his back. A fully grown silverback can weigh about 500 pounds. PATRICK MEHLMAN, GORILLA EXPERT: His name is Umba and we think he's about 22, 24 years of age. He's the only silverback in this group.
COOPER: Patrick Mehlman is a gorilla expert with the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund and Conservation International.
MEHLMAN: He's just testing us. He's just testing us. It's OK. He's just trying to pass now. Just let him pass. As long as he doesn't feel like we're doing anything threatening, he'll just walk right by us, as he did.
COOPER: Gorillas are highly susceptible to human diseases. So visitors are only allowed one hour with the mountain gorillas. But it's more than worth the trip.
(on camera): Visiting the mountain gorillas is probably one of the most incredible and intimate experiences you can have with an animal in the wild. When you're this close to the gorillas, and when you see their eyes, you see how intelligent they are and how really similar they are to human beings. Each one really has a unique personality. Each one is an individual.
(voice-over): Despite the obstacles mountain gorillas still face, they are in some ways a success story. In recent years their numbers have been slowly climbing. For other gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, so-called lowland gorillas, the picture is much bleaker.
MEHLMAN: The lowland gorillas have indeed suffered from the effects of civil war because you've had several armies and all of these armed rebel groups moving through the habitat and there are occasions when they will just take out their AK-47s and have target practice. That happens.
COOPER: That happens and likely will continue to happen until the government takes hold in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that makes protecting gorillas a priority. If not on principle, then simply as a way to bring in some desperately need tourist dollars.
COOPER: Most people here live on far less than a dollar a day, about 20 cents a day. Bicycles are even too expensive more many people here.
But Congolese have invented their own form of a bicycle. It's actually made out of wood. This is a young man, named Seku (ph), who has what's called a chukadu (ph). They call it the village car. It's basically kind of a scooter bicycle completely made out of wood.
This one does have a shock absorber. It's got a tire made out of wood with some rubber on it. They use this to transport huge amounts of goods to and from the marketplace. Seku rents out this chukadu, and it's just one of the ways people make do with very little here.
We're going to have a lot more from the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming up.
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