Interview with Valerie Grey from Heart of Diamonds by Dave Donelson
Valerie: That’s not an easy question! I think I was drawn to journalism because I’m a naturally curious person. I like to find out what’s going on behind closed doors and figure out who’s doing what to whom and why. There are a lot of bad characters in this world and somebody has to turn over the rocks and let the sun shine on them. Or maybe I’m just nosy.
Q: Is that why you went to the Congo?
Valerie: I’ve been to the Congo three times. The first time was to cover the revolution that put Moshe Messime in office as President. The second time, though, I was both on assignment and trying to get away from some personal issues. I’d just been passed over for the anchor job on the MBS-TV Evening News and my friend, lover, and mentor, David Powell, was getting serious about marriage and I didn’t know if I wanted that or not. That was a tough time in my life. The third time I went to the Congo was to cover the U.S. military intervention. It was the first time American troops set foot on African soil since Mogadishu.
Q: Not to see Dr. Jaime Talon?
Valerie: Well…. My life is complicated, isn’t it? Two very strong, wonderful men in it, two governments trying to kill me, a mad missionary and a secret agent on my trail. Maybe I should just stay home. What do you think?
Q: No fair turning the reporter tables on me, Valerie. What is the Congo like?
Valerie: The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most beautiful, horrible places on earth. The country is spectacular and the people are warm, giving, and friendly. But the endless war over the Congo’s riches has destroyed the nation, which makes me so sad. The Congo war is the deadliest conflict since World War II. Nearly six million people have died since 1998.
There are over 20 armed militias operating in the Eastern Provinces alone, waging war on each other, the government, and the UN forces to control the diamonds, gold, timber, coltan, and other wealth. A gang rape occurs every half hour. A million people have been driven from their homes. I could go on for hours about the things I saw while I was covering the war and reporting on the smuggling scheme.
Q: Speaking of smuggling, when did you first suspect something was wrong at Mai-Munene?
Valerie: I knew things weren’t right the first time I laid eyes on Thomas Alben. For a missionary, he had the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen. There was something about that man that just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Then, when he showed us around the mine, I was appalled at the conditions. If you’ve seen the movie Blood Diamonds with Leonardo DeCaprio, you saw something like the diamond mine at Mai-Munene. The movie was very realistic.
Q: But wasn’t the mine at Mai-Munene owned by a televangelist?
Valerie: That was what was so ironic about it. Here was this world-famous man of God, the Reverend Gary Peterson, preaching about the love and compassion of Jesus Christ from his crystal palace in Atlanta while he’s making millions of dollars from slave laborers in Africa.
Q: How was the White House involved?
Valerie: President Billy Baker was buddies with Peterson, who was also a big campaign supporter of his. The whole connection was a little murky, but it resulted in sending tens of thousands of American soldiers to the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q: What was the scariest thing that happened to you?
Valerie: Let’s see….it could have been the midnight dugout canoe ride down the river full of crocodiles, or the gun battle near Mr. Sami’s store, or the shelling at Kinshasa, or the ambush by the rebels while Nancy was still in shock. There were other times, too, but I try not to dwell on them. It may sound strange, but I cope with things like that by pretending it’s just all in a day’s work.
Q: What about Dr. Jaime Talon. How do you feel now?
Valerie: That’s too painful. I’d rather not talk about it.
Q: I understand. Thank you for your time, Valerie, and for telling us about Heart of Diamonds.