Zimbabwe National Dish
Food is deeply integrated into all cultures, and it’s often the poorest countries who take the most pride in their meals. Food brings people together, even if the distance never changes.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Cassava, being available year round, is the staple food, though there are Arabic, French and Asian influences in Congolese cuisine. It’s common to grill or boil insects such as caterpillar, crickets and grasshoppers while bananas and local vegetables are common. A simple dish, called saka saka is made from cassava leaves cooked with palm oil and peanut sauce.


The national dish, called sadza, is based on cornmeal and generally served with a vegetable stew. Meats such as beef, springbok, kudu and goat are consumed regularly by those who can afford it, but those who cannot rely on a wide variety of fried insect for protein.

The majority of Zimbabweans are Christian, so Christmas is widely celebrated. Often an animal is roasted on a spit for hours to be shared by the entire village.


The Burundi diet is heavy in carbohydrates such as corn, millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes. Cassava is typically boiled and mashed into a porridge that’s used to school up a vegetable sauce. Beans are the most common source of protein as meat is rare, though fish is regularly eaten by those who live beside Lake Tanganyika.

Locally-brewed beers are common and accepted as part of the social interaction when families negotiate over a marriage. There are many food customs that revolve around cows, which are considered sacred. Milk cannot be heated or drunk on the same day that peas or peanuts are eaten, and when a cow dies its horns are planted beside the family’s house to bring good luck.


Typically found in Liberian meals are cassava, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, palm oil and no meal is complete without rice. Cassava is sometimes boiled and then pounded into what is called a dumboy, and sauces made from the Cassava leaf over beef or chicken are a traditional favorite.


Goats, cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens are all commonly raised and eaten while fish consumption is low, regardless of Eritrea’s proximity to the Red Sea. The base of most meals is either kitcha – a thin wheat bread – or injera – a spongy pancake made from taff. Food is typically served in a communal bowl and eaters use the kitcha or injera to pinch out some of the main course.

Since Eritrea was once an Italian colony, tourists often find spaghetti, lasagna and pizza in the country’s restaurants. Blended drinks with bananas, mango and papaya are common, and three drinks share the title of ‘national beverage’: suwa, an alcoholic drink similar to beer; meis, a fermented honey drink; and Araki, an anise-flavored liquor.

Central African Republic

Meat is scarce and expensive, so nuts and insects serve as daily protein. The base of most meals is usually millet or sorghum, and vegetables and spices such as garlic, onions, chiles, okra and peanuts are gradationally used to add flavor.

Specialties include palm butter soup, futu – pounded cassava – and foutou – pounded plantains. Palm wine and banana wine are the favorite local beverages.


As a desert country, Niger’s citizens rely on grains that can be stored for long periods of time like millet and rice. Beef and mutton often serve as the main interest in the meal, and a local favorite is dumplings made from crushed and fermented millet and cooked in milk, sugar and spices.

Those who border Lake Chad have access to fresh mish and the vegetables used in European, Asian and African dishes. The country is predominantly Islamic and so alcohol isn’t easily available. Instead, tae is the drink of choice and is available from carts beside the road.


Rural Malawian families all play a part in growing maize, the staple of their diet. Cooked maize is shaped into patties that are called nsima, and family members eat from the communal bowl while sitting in a circle on the ground. The bowl typically contains a variation of ndiwo, a sauce made with beans, meat or vegetables, and the nsima is used to scoop out a mouth-full at a time.

Those who boarder Lake Malawi eat a great deal of fish, and they dry what they don’t eat to sell to the neighbors. Chambo (the same fish used to make Western tilapia) is a popular favorite.


Those who have a history in Madagascar have left their mark on the cuisine; therefore finding dishes that belong to France, parts of Africa, the Indonesians and Arabs is common. Traditional meals are eaten on the floor and eaten with spoons from a large communal plate. Ro – rice mixed with herbs and leaves – is the base of most meals, and Ravitoto – meat and herbs – is generally its counterpart. No beverages accompany the meal, but there is a popular drink called Ranonapango which is made by burning rice.


The country’s neighbors, the Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks, heavily influence Afghanistan’s menu. India’s spices such as saffron, coriander, cardamom and black pepper are also prevalent as well as naan, an Indian flat bread that can be made in a wide variety. Rice is present in most meals, and lamb is the preferred meat.

Perhaps the most popular dish in Afghanistan is qabli pulao, a streamed rice dish topped with raisins, carrots and some kind of meat. Kababs are also a local favorite, ranging from lamb, ribs or chicken and served with a side of naan. Qorma is a dish made up of a bed of fried onions and layered with fruit, meat, spices and vegetables.

In many of the world’s poorest countries, there is only one meal a day. The women in a family traditionally will start cooking first thing in the morning, and the day’s meal is eaten in the early afternoon. Many times food is eaten with the hands out of communal bowls, making clean water a great necessity for public health and hygiene. Sharing food is a sign of respect and welcome so that guests are often fed at the cost of the family going hungry. Food is important in every nation as it binds us together at the same time that it allows us to demonstrate our heritage and creativity.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources:  MapsOfWorld, SAARC Tourism, Our AfricaThe Borgen ProjectEritreaLiberian ForumEveryCultureFoodByCountry, FoodSpring
Photo: The News Gastronomes

According to a Politico article, a former Wisconsin senator ended a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Russ Feingold, who lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, was appointed by John Kerry to help resolve a conflict involving the Congolese government and militia M23.

“Feingold’s assignment came just as a new group of rebels, trained and equipped by Rwanda, was gaining strength in the west and even threatening to take Kinshasa, the Congolese capital,” Politico reported.

The most important lesson behind the peace negotiations, Kerry told Feingold, is “that diplomacy works, and persistence pays off.”

Kerry became familiar with Feingold’s work ethic when they sat together for years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Russ and I served together in the Senate for some 18 years,” Kerry said during a United States Department of State press announcement in June 2013. “I have a lot of respect for a lot of qualities of Russ–his intellect, his courage, his passion–but with respect to this mission, chief among those qualities that are important right now is his expertise on Africa.”

The situation in the DRC has caused much concern for the international community lately. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country has an annual cost of $1.5 billion and employs 20,000 troops. Moreover, a study by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that around 48 women are raped every hour throughout the country.

Human Rights Watch also released a report condemning the war crimes committed by Rwandan officials and General Bosco Ntaganda, the leader of M23.

“Field research conducted by (HRW) in the region in May 2012 revealed that Rwandan army officials have provided weapons, ammunition, and an estimated 200 to 300 recruits to support Ntaganda’s mutiny in Rutshuru territory, eastern Congo,” HRW said.

Although Feingold was able to defeat M23 with diplomacy, Politico argues that his next big challenge is to make governance in the DRC more effective.

“Only once it gained control over, and legitimacy in, eastern Congo could there be permanent peace,” said Politico. “Until then, it would remain a place where armed militias could gang-rape women and girls in farm fields, abduct boys and turn them into child soldiers, and burn entire villages to the ground.”

Due to its weak infrastructure and widespread poverty, the DRC still has a long way to go before getting rid of these problems. However, Feingold’s accomplishment in the region may potentially guide the country towards the right direction.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Politico, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Pulitzer Center

In a traditionally volatile region, violence has once again broken out. In the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two rebel groups have been engaging in fighting with the Congolese armed forces. M23, the most active of the rebel groups operating in the DRC, launched an assault on the army stationed around the city of Goma on July 14th. Prior to that though, the Allied Democratic Forces engaged the armed forces on July 11th. Caught in the crossfire of these separate engagements are tens of thousands of civilians, forced to flee as fighting erupted.

Many of these refugees fled across the border into Uganda where transit centers are quickly filling. In the first few days of the conflict 66,000 Congolese refugees crossed the border. And that was before violence erupted between M23 and the national forces. The situation is even more difficult in Uganda as the country is already playing host to more than 200,000 refugees – 60% of whom originate from the DRC – before this latest round of violence.

The UN Refugee Agency has an annual operating budget of $93.8 million for Uganda, but less than half of this has so far been funded. With the sudden influx of refugees from both Ugandan conflicts, a large portion of the extra burden is falling on Uganda. With transit centers near the borders rapidly filling, the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister pledged to begin registering refugees and relocating them to longer term refugee camps, where they will be supplied with plots of land to farm. This process, however, is time-consuming, and over-congestion in the transit camps, and the subsequent risk of disease as livestock and people live together in close quarters, has become a primary concern.

With the rebels, particularly M23 around Goma, refusing to back down, UN intervention may soon be seen. UN peacekeepers in the DRC, MONUSCO, had set a deadline of August 1st for rebel troops to hand in their weapons and demobilize. Leaders of the rebel group however dismissed the ultimatum as irrelevant. As a result, a UN intervention brigade, comprised of 3000 troops from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania – part of the 20,000 strong peacekeeping force – may soon engage rebel troops in an attempt to establish a “security zone” around the city of Goma.

– David M. Wilson
Sources: UNHCR, Times Live, IRIN News
Sources: Alissa Everett

In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia

Worst Poverty in the World
It is difficult to rank poverty into objective levels of better and worse, as though human suffering can be quantified. Are the crowded slums of India, for example, worse than the isolated villages in rural Brazil? Answering the question of where the worst poverty in the world is depends on the factors one considers.

In statistical terms, the Democratic Republic of the Congo earns the dubious distinction of having repeatedly been labelled the world’s poorest country. With a GDP per capita of less than $400 and wracked by instability, the DRC has come to be an all around worst-case scenario. Traveller Giovanni Contadino described his trip to the Congo: “Everyone was very keen to tell me how hard life was, and how much better things must be where I am from… Whenever I pressed people as to why their situation was so difficult, it was always the fault of the fighting.” Contandino also described the lack of infrastructure and the rife corruption in the city, where bribes were an everyday occurrence and politicians expected to live well beyond their means, with no protest from the people.

Many have pointed out the psychological devastation of being among the poorest in the United States. Though it is the richest country in the world, the United States is also plagued by devastating poverty. Affected areas include urban communities like infamous Hunt’s Point in New York City or Detroit, which was labelled the most miserable city in the United States and has lower earnings than any other city and a high crime rate. It is a condition that must be made more intolerable by the knowledge of your countrymen’s affluence as well as living in a culture that thrives on materialism and consumption.

Syrian refugees are undergoing one of the world’s most horrendous crises at the moment, losing homes, belongings, livelihoods, subject to random violence and rampant sexual assaults, forced into underserved communities and robbed of any hope of future security while their country burns around them. The poverty to be found in a refugee camp breeds severe physical and psychological trauma. It would be difficult to look at a refugee and state that their suffering was less profound than that to be found in the Congo, simply because it began more recently.

All poverty is bad poverty. All poverty creates suffering and undermines dignity. To ask if one is worse than the other is an impossible and misguided question with little purpose; the most we should be asking is why there is poverty at all.

Farahnaz Mohammed

Sources: Global Finance, Road Trip to the DRC, MSN
Photo: The Telegraph


Habitat for Humanity has become one of the most recognizable organizations in the world, with a reputation as big as their size. They provide safe and affordable housing for low-income families, and have created a sustainable business model through which they have managed to continue their work for 35 years.

HFH was started in 1976 by a single couple, Millard and Linda Fuller. They left a successful business and comfortable lifestyle to start a life of service, inspired by their Christian values. They began working by building housing for the needy in Georgia in the United States of America. They then expanded to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire) and over the years grew into the multinational organization HFH is today. It was 1,500 affiliates in the Unites States and over 80 in international locations. It has built or repaired over 600,000 homes since its inception.

Today, Habitat works in all regions of the world not only building housing, but also providing technical assistance to families (training them to maintain their houses), providing financial assistance to low-income families, advocating housing for those in need and assisting in disaster preparation and response.

Habitat’s method is revolutionary in that it combines charity with industry, and each family contributes significant labor into building their own house. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments are then used to build more Habitat houses. Volunteers make up a large part of the team construction team. Through this, donations and partnerships, Habitat has been able to funnel a huge amount of money purely towards its efforts.

Families apply to Habitat and are selected based on need. Though it is a Christian organization, Habitat does not discriminate on the basis of religion or race, and serves all communities equally.

– Farahnaz Mohammed
Source: Habitat for Humanity, New York Times

Poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
A country two thirds the size of Europe, and rich in mineral and agricultural resources, the Democratic Republic of the Congo  is also the site of the “deadliest conflict since World War II,” which has killed more than 5.4 million people. The country is recovering from this civil war, but its infrastructure has been nearly destroyed. As a result, poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is widespread and severe, and it requires urgent attention.


Breakdown of Poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo


Effects of the War
Today, the effects of the conflict in the DRC are extremely apparent. Life expectancy is 49 years compared to the global average of 70 years, and 168 children born out of every 1,000 die before reaching the age of five. In 2011, more than a quarter of the population was sickened by malaria. More than 2.3 million citizens remain displaced from their homes within the country, and thousands more have fled to neighboring countries for refuge from the ongoing violence.

Present Challenges
Though these statistics have improved slightly since the peak of the civil war in the mid-1990s, 71 percent of the DRC’s population continues to live below the poverty line. Experts say that the country’s scale is a primary factor causing many to die from “easily preventable conditions” such as malnutrition, malaria, and pneumonia. Humanitarian and aid organizations struggle to serve the DRC’s large population as “renewed rebel activities” in eastern provinces continue to displace large segments of the population.

Addressing Poverty
The World Bank reopened in the DRC in 2001 after operations were suspended for almost ten years because of political instability and corruption in the country. The Bank has committed $3.1 billion to the DRC, aiming to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, decrease corruption in public and private sectors, and rehabilitate the country’s health and education systems.

The United Nations has also been instrumental in the DRC’s recovery. The Security Council established MONUSCO in 1999, supplying peacekeeping troops to the region. In addition to the UN’s peacekeeping efforts, USAID provides emergency assistance to the displaced and has established long-term programs to address food security, democracy, education, the environment, and global health in the DRC.

Since late 2010, USAID has given a comprehensive malaria prevention package in 70 health zones in the DRC, greatly reducing the incidence of malaria in the country. USAID also provides health services to pregnant women with HIV/AIDs, preventing them from passing the virus on to their children. The DRC happens to be one of the five countries in the world that accounts for half of all child deaths, but USAID recently provided health services to more than 12 million people who previously lacked access to healthcare.

The situation in the DRC remains one of the most urgent humanitarian crises in the world, but efforts to relieve the widespread poverty are proving successful. In order to maintain this trajectory, though, continued funding for USAID will be critical.

Katie Bandera

Sources: BBC, Global Issues, USAID, WHO
Photo: BBC

Yesterday, the United Nation published its 2013 Human Development Report. Among the most encouraging signs of development are the percentage increases in some of the countries with the lowest Human Development Indices (HDI). Gains have been seen in every single country with complete data since 2000; no country is worse off than 13 years ago by the standards of the HDI report.

This metric measures statistics like infant mortality, per capita income growth, and school attendance in order to give an accurate picture of how a country’s development is proceeding. Some of the countries which have had notoriously low HDIs have seen “impressive” gains of more than 2% per year, including Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Liberia. Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have seen these gains as well, and despite having the lowest overall scores in the world, they are “among the countries that made the greatest strides in HDI improvement since 2000.”

Although sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest average HDI of all global regions, its growth since 2000 has outpaced all but Southeast Asia. However, national and regional averages can actually make the data seem to represent realities which are more nuanced. When taking into account countries’ internal variations of human development, the rankings can look different. For example, the United States would be ranked 16th instead of 3rd. This data goes to show that our preconceptions of development can often be quite skewed. Areas where many think there is no progress being made are actually improving quite drastically, whereas countries that are seen as well-off have distinct problems in ensuring better circumstances for their poorest citizens.

Jake Simon

Source: UNDP
Photo: UNDP