Mwambe: Democratic Republic of Congo’s National Dish

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Comoros was a vision of sun drenched tropical beauty.  Despite the local poverty and political instability, Comoros was a place to return to when we have more time.  What a unique blend of cultures and cuisines exist there.   However, we have many miles to sail and our next destination awaits us.  To get there from Comoros, we could sail north and land at the border of Mozambique and Tanzania and travel west overland, or we could sail around the Cape of Good Hope and land near the capital city of Kinshasa located inland from the small Atlantic waterfront that this nation controls.  Since Eastern Congo still has regular fighting, let’s sail around the Cape.

Known until 1997 as Zaire and formerly by many other names, Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC as we will call it is unfortunately a haunting example of the ravages of war and the results of desperation and corruption.

Prior to 1997, Zaire had many names.  They included the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo-Léopoldville, and Congo-Kinshasa.  Not to be mistaken with its neighbor the Republic of Congo or just plain Congo, DRC is a large country with a huge population of nearly 65 million people.  It is located in central Africa and has a small Atlantic waterfront to the west and borders the Great Rift Valley or Great Lakes region to the east and the Congo River to the north.  The Great Lakes region is home to several nations including Burundi a place we have already visited.

DRC is one of the world’s poorest countries, not for lack of resources but due to incredible human greed and political corruption.  The president, AKA dictator, of the nation from the 1960’s until the start of the First and Second Congo Wars, was Joseph Mobutu.  Mobutu rose to power in the wars for independence as a US backed anti-communist leader.  To summarize his rule in one word “corrupt” is appropriate and an understatement.  It is said that Mobutu amassed a personal fortune of over $4Billion US dollars in a secret Swiss bank account, all of it stolen from the lifeblood of his country.  This corruption to the very top, brought DRC, then Zaire, to its knees economically.

In 1997, Mobutu was forced to flee the nation as the calls for political reform had reached the boiling point.  In the wake of this unrest, neighboring nations invaded the newly renamed DRC in a grab for the incredible mineral wealth of the Congo’s Rift Valley.  Rwandan and Ugandan troops and former Zairean officials fought to oust Mobutu and his supporters.  After Laurent-Desire Kabila named himself the new leader, he thanked the forces that helped him gain power and asked them to leave the country, in fear of a coup d’état.  This action launched the First Congo War starting in 1997.

This conflict stems from the same Huti/Tutsi conflicts that have rocked Sudan as well as Chad and the political instability and wholesale genocide, ethnic cleansings and systematic rape and murder in these places.  In all, as many as 5.4 million people have died either directly due to fighting or indirectly due to famine and disease making it the deadliest war since WW2.  Millions more have been displaced in the conflicts.

Combined with a grab for Congo’s incredible wealth of natural resources, 15 more years of civil unrest have been the result.  Unfortunately, innocent civilians have paid the price for the actions of corrupted leaders, warring ethnic groups and multinational corporations anxious to cash in on the Diamonds, Gold, Silver, Cobalt, and other minerals found in the delta of the Rift Valley.  Sadly the same potential wealth that could revitalize this region is one of the root causes of all the unrest.

Another important part of the geography of Congo is the river that shares its name.  Navigation on the Congo River throughout the northern and western portions of the country is accomplished by river boat.  This reliance on the river is a necessity since greed has allowed the past leaders of Congo to neglect internal infrastructure of roads and railways throughout the reign of Mobutu.  Recent efforts by the son of Laurent Kabila (elected after his assassination in 2001) have helped broker a fragile peace.  Joseph Kabila has begun the process of recovery calling for ceasefire agreements and anti corruption measures designed to reign in the wide spread economic plundering.   If the arrangements hold, perhaps in time the natural wealth of DRC can aid in rebuilding the countries’ infrastructure and damaged psyche.

Some would describe DRC as “hell on Earth” others as the number one example of the blowback of colonial oppression and corporate exploitation of the entire continent of Africa.  Still others might call DRC the best chance for rebuilding the stability of Central Africa and the many nations that border it.  Certainly no progress can be made without continued efforts by African Leaders, The United Nations and other Regional Peacekeeping and Economic Stimulus Agencies.  More importantly, awareness and aid from the outside must continue to shine a spotlight on the political morass that is present in so many of Africa’s nations.

The national dish of DRC is Mwambe (Moambe) and is shared by other nations such as Angola.  We cooked this dish before and will pass on making it again (as mentioned in previous postings).  It is a unique, colorful and delicious dish made with meat cooked in Palm Oil with local vegetables.  This and many other dishes went on to influence the cuisines of the Americas on the heels of the Slave Trade.  Enjoy trying this excellent West African favorite.

Our next country is Congo which lies on the western shores of the Congo River to the northwest of DRC.  Stay tuned to read more…


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