Ben Affleck may be famous for his role in movies such as Argo, The Town and Good Will Hunting, but nowadays he’s making an impact in a new role. Because of his philanthropic involvement in eastern Congo, Affleck went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the Congolese people and the need for U.S. involvement in the region. The hearing provided an opportunity for Affleck to draw increased media attention to the precarious human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and pressure lawmakers to do more to help.

Affleck first became involved in the Congo through his grant-making and advocacy organization, the East Congo Initiative (ECI). This organization seeks to increase investments in Congolese-led programs that create safe and sustainable communities. Additionally, ECI advocates for increased U.S. involvement in Congo while working against key problems such as rape and sexual violence as well as inadequate education and health resources for children. The East Congo Initiative also seeks to reintegrate former child soldiers back into their homes while leading community-level peace and reconciliation programs.

During his testimony, Affleck highlighted many of the struggles the Congolese people are enduring every day. For instance, Affleck cited UN reports that not only indicate that 2.9 million Congolese had been displaced internally, but also that 428,000 others have become refugees in neighboring countries. These people are being scattered throughout the region by the armed militia known as M23 that had previously taken over the capital of a northern Congolese province. A UN peacekeeping force recently coerced the M23 to surrender and sign a peace agreement. Affleck cited the UN group as evidence that “when the international community acts, and the Congolese government rises to the moment, these challenges are in fact solvable.”

Affleck finished his testimony by sharing a story about one of ECI’s partners, Theo Chocolate. An organic, fair-trade chocolate company, Theo imports more than 50% of its Chocolate from the DRC. Theo Chocolate’s business was connected to small folder farmers in the DRC by ECI and has helped support many of these small Congolese business operations. Through professionally directed investments, ECI was able to help spur economic development in the Congo and improve the lives of several Congolese people.

Through his charitable initiatives with ECI, Affleck is an example of how ordinary Americans can make a difference in influencing Congress and bring attention to the issues they care about. Affleck acknowledged, “I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert. I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about.” Through his actions, Affleck not only successfully drew the attention of the United States Senate to the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he also gives hope for a better life to many impoverished people.

– Martin Levy

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, East Congo Initiative
Photo: Heritage

Dikembe Mutombo may be best remembered as one of the most prolific shot-blockers and defensive players in NBA history.  With 3,289 blocks and over 12,000 rebounds in his 18-year career, Mutombo built an incredible legacy on the court.

His basketball career began at Georgetown University, where he played for renowned coach John Thompson.  At 7 feet 2 inches tall, one might expect that Mutombo attended Georgetown on an athletic scholarship, as he was seemingly built for basketball.  However, Mutombo immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo thanks to a USAID scholarship and a dream of becoming a doctor.

While it may be true that Mutomobo’s basketball legacy began at Georgetown, it was also the place where he cultivated his ideals of philanthropy.  Mutombo graduated with double majors in Linguistics and Diplomacy, and entered the NBA following his graduation.

Highlights of Mutombo’s philanthropic ventures during his basketball career include being a spokesperson for the international relief agency CARE, traveling to Somali refugee camps in Kenya during the Somali Civil War, and funding the Congolese track and basketball teams’ travel and expenses during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

In 2007, Mutombo opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital near Kinshasa in his native Congo.  The hospital boasts many accomplishments, including partnering with USAID for a community-based initiative to treat HIV/AIDS in the region.  More than anything, the hospital provides a much-needed advanced health center offering care for those who would elsewhere be denied access.

Mutombo retired from the NBA in 2009.  But his efforts to promote global development have only grown.  Mutombo is the founder and chairman of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, the organization that oversees all of his charitable ventures.

Mutombo also currently sits on the boards of Opportunity International, Special Olympics International, and UNICEF.  A future endeavor for Mutombo is to build a state-of-the-art science and technology high school in Kinshasa.  For his tireless efforts, on December 1, Forbes announced Mutombo as one of America’s “Top 50 Givers.”

Mutombo’s 18 years in the NBA are a testament to his talent and perseverance as an athlete, but it pales in comparison to his continuing fight to promote global health and development.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: ESPN, Forbes
Photo: The Tallest Man

Fighting between the M23 Rebel Group and the Democratic Republic of Congo government has contributed to the ongoing violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) However, a group of 1,400 M23 rebels fighting in eastern Congo along the Ugandan border, surrendered last week to the Ugandan military. The group surrendered after the Congolese FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo) forces, working alongside the United Nation Intervention Brigade, forced the M23 rebels to wave the white flag.

Upon initial screening, 46 children were discovered among the M23 rebel fighters. In fact, the Associate External Relations Officer for the UNHCR Mbarara, sub-office, Lucy Beck explained that upon screening, the children were found to be civilians. Ms. Beck urged the importance of bringing these innocent, orphaned soldiers to safety, away from war conditions and no longer subject them to further forced fighting. She explained, “They are all unaccompanied minors and as such need special attention and protection.” The 46 children are being given refugee services.

Upon surrendering, the group was transported to the Kasese district in Uganda and is currently held under military watch. Rumors have circulated concerning the desire of the Congolese officials for the Ugandan government to hand over Sultani Makenga, the leader of the M23 rebels. However, Ofwono Opondo, a Ugandan government spokesman said he is not aware the DRC is seeking out this option. Opondo further explained that Uganda will not be handing over the remaining confined fighters until a peace deal between the M23 rebels and the Congolese government is signed.

Last week, both the M23 Rebel group and the DRC government came together intending to sign the desired peace agreement. Unfortunately, the DRC government ended up calling off the signing due to a particular disagreement concerning the terms and conditions on which to sign.

At this point, handing over the remaining surrendered fighters from military confinement to refugee status is an event that will not be discussed until a peace treaty is signed. Lucy Beck explained, “as an organization, our duty is to the asylum-seekers and refugees we serve. For this reason we can’t discuss individual cases (Sultani Makenga)—even to confirm or deny whether someone has filed an application with us. I am sure you can understand this is for the protection of the individuals themselves.”

With that said, the influx of refugees into Uganda is already very high. There are currently 236,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda, and that number is growing. Although it is not expected that the surrendered M23 rebels be handed over to the United Nations, it is an issue that concerns the refugee systems in Uganda.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: New Vision, Nam News Network,
Photo: Yes I Care

ryan gosling
The famous female-favorite movie star Ryan Gosling – notably known for films such as Drive and The Ides of March – is much more than just the typical Hollywood hunk. Over the past few years Gosling has proven to be quite a proactive and admirable advocate.

Gosling’s main advocacy passion is for animal rights: he has on numerous occasions spoken for maltreated farm animals. In the spring of this year, for instance, he learned of an atrocious practice about which he wrote a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), urging them for immediate action. Apparently, farms across the nation would engage in extremely painful dehorning methods of cows. Using dangerous chemicals or simply amputating the appendages would leave a three-month healing time; only about a tenth of all farms use any kind of pain reliever for their animals. Ryan Gosling advocates that the simple solution here would be to breed hornless cows. The letter was publicized in its fullness on PETA’s website and quickly spread across the internet.

In 2011, Gosling appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show raising another important issue: the war in Congo and how we are fueling it by buying products – everyday electronics – which contain minerals obtained there. Advocating for human rights, Gosling states, “We want our products conflict free.” The star personally visited Congo prior to his appearance on the show, meeting with various organizations and actively advocating against the war. He urges viewers of Jimmy Kimmel to do the same by supporting Raise Hope for Congo – a campaign geared against the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo.

In a separate letter to the Globe and Mail, Ryan Gosling advocates for maltreated pigs by drawing a parallel between them and his beloved dog, George. Intelligent and curiously close to humans in plentiful ways, pigs are being kept in solitary confinement for weeks by the pork industry, leading to the deterioration of both mind and muscle. Gosling means that he could never imagine doing that to his four-legged companion; actually, could any Canadian (or sensible person in general)?

Ryan Gosling as an advocate is a true knight in shining armor for the world of the weak and the voiceless. The characters he portrays in his films are often troubled yet highly likable. Using that same charisma outside of the big screen is Gosling’s advocacy wild card. Decidedly down-to-earth and concerned with making the world a better place, he manages to seamlessly intertwine his career with his passion for aiding those in need. Instead of putting on glamorous events or the likes, he often chooses the more subtle, yet efficient approach of going straight to the source. As individuals stumble upon these letters he’s taken the time to personally write, they may stop and think for an extra moment, and feel more motivated to act themselves. Because, let’s be frank: few can resist the inspiring, mysterious, yet heartwarming appeal of Ryan Gosling.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: IMDB, PETA, Ecorazzi, Raise Hope for Congo, Buzzfeed, The Globe and Mail
Photo: Mirror UK

Sunglasses John Kerry
This past Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a new U.S. initiative aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies worldwide. Known as “Safe from Start,” the $10 million will be funded to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations to hire specialized staff, start new programs, and “develop innovative methods” to protect women and girls at the onset of emergencies around the world.

“In the face of conflict and disaster, we should strive to protect women and girls from sexual assault and other violence,” Kerry emphasized in a press release. The statement also mentions that the U.S. will coordinate with other donors and stakeholders to develop a framework for action and accountability to ensure that efforts to address gender-based violence are routinely prioritized as a life-saving interference, along with other vital humanitarian help.

The initiative builds on the framework established by the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will be responsible for the initiative.

Most conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Egypt, or the Democratic Republic of Congo are reporting high rates of rape. Seen as a tool to terrorize villages and break the will of the opposition, rape has been routinely incorporated as a weapon of war during conflicts. According to Save the Children, up to 80 percent of war rape victims are under 18, while an Oxfam report states that rape is the “most extensive form of violence” women and girls are currently facing in Syria.

Although the press release mentions women and girls as the primary victims of gender-based violence, the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally states that this type of aggression can also be directed towards men and boys, as well as sexual and gender minorities.

According to this document, gender-based violence is “violence directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex, gender identity, or perceived adherence to socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity.” It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as threats, coercion, arbitrary loss of liberty, and economic hardship.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: U.S. Department of State, CNS News, Huffington Post
Photo: Cloture Club

Poorest Country in the World Democratic Republic of Congo
You might be surprised to find that the United States isn’t the richest country in the world. Actually, that crown goes to Qatar who has recently jumped ranks to take first place. But what about the other side of the spectrum, the parts of the world struggling with devastating poverty? Well, on that end the Democratic Republic of Congo comes in first – or last, to be more accurate – as the poorest country in the world, with the lowest GDP per capita than any other country.


The Poorest Country in the World: The Democratic Republic of Congo


Determining a country’s rank in wealth isn’t the easiest of tasks when you sit down and think about the data and economics involved. However, a good indicator of a nation’s standard of living is the assessment of its GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, which is defined as the total value of all domestic goods and services that country produces annually, times its PPP or purchasing power parity. GDP per capita (PPP) isn’t a perfect shot because its purpose isn’t to calculate that kind of economic rank but it’s measured frequently, widely and consistently, allowing trends to become visible.

In 2010, GNI (gross national income) per capita replaced GDP in the calculation, but the list is the same between the two. Qatar was still first with about $100,000 GDP per capita (PPP) in 2012 just as it was on the GNI list and the Democratic Republic of Congo came in last at around $370 GDP per capita (PPP). The gap is massive.

Of the 40 poorest countries in the world, a solid 33 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. They include Zimbabwe, Burundi, Liberia, and Niger. Other parts of the world notoriously infamous for high poverty rates include Afghanistan, Haiti, and Nepal. But none of these places takes it quite as harshly as the Democratic Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Republic of Congo) whose turbulent past and bloody wars have eclipsed the nation’s potential to thrive.

Since its independence in 1960 and once the most industrialized country in Africa, Congo has bled onto the ground because of its lack of infrastructure and the brutal impact of civil war. Disputes between Congo’s prominent rival groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, erupted after the Rwandan Genocide in which 500,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were victims of mass slaughter by the Hulus in the East African state of Rwanda.

The result was an exodus of over 2 million Rwandans fleeing to neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, known in that time as Zaire. Most of the refugees were Hulus attempting to escape the Tutsi who had climbed to dominance at the end of the genocide. The Hulu refugee camps in Zaire, however, became politicized and militarized and when Tutsi rebels invaded Zaire to repatriate the refugees, the conflict escalated into the First Congo War in 1996.

The situation only grew worse and by 1998, the Second Congo War, which was sometimes called the “African world war” because it involved a total of nine African countries and twenty armed groups, devastated Zaire and laid waste to her population and economy. The political turmoil continues today despite intervention and peace attempts and is one of the world’s deadliest conflicts with a death toll of 5.4 million people.

More than almost 90 percent of the conflict’s victims, however, died due a lack of access to shelter, water, food and medicine – all severely aggravated by displaced and overcrowded populations living in unsanitary conditions. Not to mention, 47 percent of deaths were children under 5 and some 45,000 children continue to die each month.

The nation also faces the problem of human rights and the countless crimes against humanity because while many have returned home, an estimated 1.5 million are still displaced. DR Congo is also infamous and heavily criticized for its treatment of women. The east of the country has been described as the “rape capital of the world” and rates of sexual violence has been described as the worst in the world.

It doesn’t help that DR Congo is consistently poisoned by corruption and greed. While mining growth has somewhat boosted the country’s economy, the elite are said to syphon off revenue for their own personal gain due to the nation’s lack of strong central government. Conflicts over basic resources, access and control over rich minerals and oil, and political agendas are some of the many complex causes behind the Democratic Republic of Congo’s inability to rise among the ranks and take the title of the poorest country in the world.

–  Janki Kaswala

Sources: World Bank, Maps of World
Photo: The Telegraph

Rwandan Refugee Kids Waiting for Food on March 28th
Recently, the United Nations pledged $400 million to Rwanda to be paid out over the next five years. The announcement was happy news to a country that still has fresh emotional wounds from the 1990’s genocide from which it has yet to fully recover. This is the greatest nod from the international community that the country has received since earlier this year when it was awarded a seat on the UN Security Council.

Rwanda depends on external aid for 40% of the budget, but for years the nation’s GDP has been at 7%, slowing to 5.9% only in the first quarter of the year. Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s ultimate goal is to rely less on aid, and more on investment. Author Stephen Kinzer says that Kagame’s objective was to “have a country that really works, everybody speaks English, the Internet is super fast, the airport is totally free of corruption… then lure to Rwanda all the companies and economic interests that are working in this entire region.”

Many have spoken out against the nation’s president for human rights violations, including silencing political opposition and deaths attributed to Rwandan-backed rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. However, many are also lauding him for the way he is running his country economically. Vowing to make Rwanda a middle-income country by 2020, Kagame has boosted the nation’s coffee, tea, and tourism industries dramatically.

Harvard University Professor Michael Porter is convinced that Rwanda is playing to its strengths by focusing on these areas. Natural resources are scarce there, but volcanic soils in high altitude are rich in nutrients and allow for abundant coffee and tea production, and the country’s rich biodiversity has opened up a great market for eco-tourism (for instance, Rwanda is one of the few safe places in the world to view mountain gorillas in their natural habitat). According to a statement issued by the Rwandan government on Thursday, approximately $124 million from the UN will be put towards economic and “governance” projects, bolstering these industries even more.

Much of that will also go toward increasing Rwanda’s energy capacity. Kagame wants his people to be ready to meet whatever demand for labor that may come with such a change. In an interview with Justin Fox, he said, “We keep sending our people to institutions of higher learning in the sciences, engineering, and management. It’s the focus because we want our people to understand how the new world works.”

But most Rwandans remain poor farmers living in subsistent conditions, and the lofty goals of 2020 cannot come soon enough for them. Luckily, the other $276 million from the UN will be spent solely on development in order to strengthen the health, education, and nutrition of the people. With memories still marred by a violent history, this country’s problems won’t disappear overnight, but progress is a principal priority of the people and the current administration alike. Speaking about Rwandan’s newfound awareness of their interdependence in the interview with Fox, Kagame says, “Yes, we need each other. We are more similar than different. It helps the society to move forward.”

– Samantha Mauney 

Sources: Bloomberg, The Independent, NPR

Global poverty is not just about numbers. Statistics in income, wealth distribution, disease, and education never tell the whole story of individual lives in harsh conditions. Poverty affects health, life expectancy, maternal mortality, educational opportunity, environmental risk, and many other factors that contribute to individual and collective well-being. Nevertheless, numbers show a lot about the challenges of global poverty, and better data can inform better solutions to the problem of global poverty.

Reports on global poverty commonly use GDP to determine the relative wealth of countries. Such numbers allow researchers, governments, and relief organizations to determine areas of the world where poverty is most severe. Using 2012 figures from the IMF World Economic Outlook Database, the magazine Global Finance states that Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many of the poorest countries in the world. Indeed, according to those estimates, 19 of the 20 poorest countries in the world can be found in that region. Measured by per capita GDP, the five poorest countries in the world are:

Life expectancy at birth in the poorest countries in the world is 2/3 that of some of the world’s wealthiest nations:

Child mortality rates in these countries where poverty is the worst are also expectedly high. The probability of infant death per 1,000 births is as follows:

  1. Eritrea: 68
  2. Burundi: 139
  3. Zimbabwe: 67
  4. Liberia: 78
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo: 165

In comparison, the average life expectancy in the U.S. and the U.K. is 79 and 80 respectively. The infant mortality rate is 5 per 1,000 in U.K. and 8 per 1,000 in the US. Using the GDP metric, the U.S. ranks 7th on the list of wealthiest nations, with an estimated GDP of over $49,000; and the U.K. ranks 23rd, with an estimated GDP of almost $37,000. The richest nation in the world is the oil-rich microstate of Qatar, with a per capita GDP of over 100,000 dollars. Life expectancy in that country is 82 years. The probability of infant death is also 8 per 1,000 live births.

– Délice Williams

Source: Global Finance,WHO
Photo: Melange

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim have concluded a historic 3-day trip to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. While there, the leaders promoted peace, security and economic development in the countries of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda. These leaders pledged that their organizations would help and encourage these countries to achieve stability and economic development. These talks came after a historic agreement was reached in the DRC that ended the conflict in the region that had been going on for decades.

President Kim praised the three countries on their leadership emphasizing the opportunity for the leaders of the Great Lakes region to utilize the UN’s and World Bank’s commitment to ending poverty and building prosperity. President Kim further showed the World Bank Group’s commitment on their first stop in DRC pledging $1 billion to further improve health, education, nutrition, job training and other essential services in the DRC and Great Lakes region.

In Rwanda, the leaders visited the memorial of the 800,000 killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. While in Rwanda, they also laid the foundation stone for a new center to help women and girls victimized by violence. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni welcomed and thanked the leaders for their help in securing peace in Uganda. In the past 5 years, Uganda has seen immense growth and a 14% drop in the poverty rate.

This visit shows a new cooperation between the UN and the World Bank Group as well as a new support for African leaders from the international community. President Kim and Secretary-General Ban are hopeful for the future of this region.

President Kim summed up their hopes saying, “We hope that Africa’s Great Lakes become a global symbol for what is possible when countries work together to lift themselves out of conflict and succeed in boosting economic growth and shared prosperity.”

– Catherine Ulrich
Source: World Bank
Photo: Australian Climate Madness

Universal Primary Education
Since 1999, when 106 million children were not in school, much progress has been made. Today, approximately 61 million are out of school, and yet more progress is needed. In the past five years, due to the economic crisis, many nations decreased their foreign aid spending and thus progress was hindered. According to the World Bank and the U.N., the majority of children not attending schools live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with at least half living in areas that are politically unstable.

Despite some progress, it is crucial to note that there is a percentage of people/areas that is not accounted for in the statistics of progress and primary education. For example, according to the U.N., 90% of primary aged children living in developing countries are now in school as opposed to that percentage being 82% in 1999. While the rise in percentage sounds great, “broad figures [have the tendency to] mask localized problems,” and thus, in actuality some countries barely have any primary aged children attending school. The children who are most unaffected by the progress and recent advancement are the extremely poor and the minorities. Nigeria, Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, India,  Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bangladesh account for half of the world’s children not going to school.

There is a demand for new donors or ‘funders,’ now that many nations have cut back on their foreign aid, from the private sector and through public fundraising. Part of the U.N. 2015 Millennium Goals was to ensure that all children have equal access to primary education and to increase females’ enrollment in schools. However, experts are claiming that education goals are difficult to reach due to issues such as child labor, cultural values, and other reasons. For example, in some cultures, it is valued more that daughters stay home while the sons receive an education. The women assume the housewife role while the men are valued to be the knowledgeable providers.

In addition to child labor and cultural values, there are many concerns regarding harassment and safety of the children attending schools. For example, some female students in Sierra Leone reported being sexually harassed by teachers in exchange for good grades. And it is almost impossible to forget the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl, who was shot by the Taliban for her advocacy of education for girls. Despite the unfortunates, where instituting education does work, it makes an incredible difference. Rebeca Winthrop, the director of the Center of Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington, expressed that there are children who continue to learn even in refugee camps. Where there is desire, willingness, and determination, there is much hope for universal primary education and even further schooling.

– Leen Abdallah
Source: New York Times
Photo: Globalization 101