The film Mission Congo premiers at the Tiff Film Festival this week:
Death, diamonds and greed. A charismatic US businessman pursues an irresistible opportunity during one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times.
Televangelist, multi-millionaire, and leader of the religious right, Pat Robertson is a man on a mission. During an escalating refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Robertson took to the airwaves of the Christian Broadcasting Network to raise money for his charity Operation Blessing International. He attracted millions of dollars in donations for relief projects in the Congo. Later, he deemed the mission a success, broadcasting footage of himself being warmly embraced by children in refugee camps.
With Mission Congo, filmmakers David Turner and Lara Zizic conduct a deep investigation based on years of research into what Operation Blessing actually accomplished. They interview aid workers, eyewitnesses and even the pilots of Robertson’s airplanes who describe a different mission: diamonds. With the help of a brutal dictator and ex- Navy SEALS, Robertson was diverting his planes away from refugee camps to a different part of the Congo to extract precious gems. If the devil is in the details, here the details are jaw-dropping as we confront the disconnect between what Robertson promised and what others experienced.
Throughout the Rwandan refugee crisis, when more than 1 million people fled into neighbouring Zaire and started dying en masse of cholera, Robertson told his viewers that Operation Blessing was at the forefront of saving lives. […]
Robertson claimed that Operation Blessing sent plane-loads of doctors.
“These are tents set up with our doctors and our medical teams that came from here to work as hard as they could to save lives,” Robertson said over pictures of a large tent of children on drips being tended by nurses and doctors.
But the film was of MSF medical staff at work. Operation Blessing had just one tent and a total of seven doctors. MSF officials who worked in Goma told the documentary-makers that they had no recollection of even seeing Operation Blessing – let alone working with it. […]
Officials from other aid operations said that Operation Blessing was not anywhere near the first or largest groups working in Goma. Jessie Potts, the operations manager for Robertson in Goma in 1994, told Mission Congo that the medicines that did arrive were not of great use in fighting the cholera epidemic.
“We got a lot of Tylenol. Too much. I never did understand that. We got enough Tylenol to supply all of Zaire. God, I never saw as much in my life,” he said.
I’ve heard these accusations before, but it looks like the film makers are really putting journalism behind the charges.