Category Archives: Jack Peterson

Africa Food Review: Ethiopian

I’ve recently gone to an Ethiopian restaurant – Zenebech Restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. This was my first time having Ethiopian food, though I’ve eaten food from all over the globe, from Indian to Brazilian to Korean. I was told prior to going that Ethiopian food is different from other foods I had tried. In particular, with Ethiopian cuisine, you eat with your hand, no utensils. This stunned me, as I hadn’t heard of that many cultures where you don’t use a fork and knife, except in parts of Asia where they use chopsticks. I didn’t know what to expect once I got there; I didn’t know if the food was going to be to my liking or if I would find it repulsive.

After trying a handful of different dishes, I can say for certain that Ethiopian food is delicious. The taste was similar to that of Indian food. The order that I got was a mixture of vegetarian dishes and meat dishes, including lamb (awaze tibs), beef (alicha wot), and chicken (doro wat). I found the meats themselves underwhelming, but the sauces that they were in were tasty. The sauces were made with a whole variety of spices and vegetables, which made them enjoyable to eat.

Because you don’t eat Ethiopian food with utensils, you use a special bread called injera. Injera is considered to be a sourdough bread with a spongy texture; if you look at this bread, it would look like dishwashing sponge. The bread comes from teff seed, which is from Ethiopia. I personally didn’t like the bread because of the texture felt weird and off-putting in my mouth. It had a generic taste, but the texture made my mouth unsettled, so I made sure to eat the bread with a lot of sauce. The vegetarian options that I ate were also very tasty; there was one with sunflower oil and injera mixed together which wasn’t very good (probably because I didn’t like the bread).

The food came out pretty quickly from the time that we ordered, which was also fascinating. I thought it would be a typical restaurant where one would have to wait upwards of 20 to 30 minutes for their food to come, but the food came rather quickly, like in less than 15 minutes. I found the services and the food very enjoyable, and I would highly recommend that you go out and try Ethiopian food.


Foreign Aid’s Effect on Africa

Foreign aid in Africa has had significant impacts on the continent, impacts that are sometimes contradictory. Foreign aid comes from a host of different countries, but the three biggest donors are Russia, the United States, Europe, and China. When an African state receives foreign aid, the state or group that provides the aid gains a little bit of influence on that African state.

Russia, both now and when it was part of the Soviet Union, has had a big influence in Africa. Russia has given plenty of foreign aid to Africa in many different forms. During the Cold War, the USSR provided several African countries with military aid, including the training of over 200,000 soldiers by the Soviets, while an additional 53,000 people studied at a military or political university in the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the Soviet Union made Africa more militarized, which allowed the violence in Africa to only become deadlier. Furthermore, through aid to authoritarian governments in Africa, the Soviets helped create many one-party states, which helped increase and strengthen the neo-patrimonial system in some African states. This creation of the one-party state was very appealing to many leaders of African states because it would help the leader personally benefit. The one-party system might not be as strong in Africa as it once was, but it has shaped the structures of many African governments today.

China’s policy about foreign aid differs from that of Russia and the Soviet Union. China has focused more on building up infrastructure in Africa states, in the hope that the aid that China provides will come back to help the Chinese economy in the long term. Unlike the United States, China is less interested in political influence over African states; the Chinese attitude is that less state intervention is better for trade and will help boost the state sovereignty of both parties. China’s work to modernize Africa’s infrastructure has been cited by many as contributing to the recent economic growth in Africa.

The United States also provides many African countries with foreign aid, both directly and indirectly, through multilateral organizations. The United States used its influence at the World Bank to help the U.S. status in obtaining certain Africa commodities like oil, gold, diamonds, tea, and coffee. U.S. aid towards Africa has resulted mostly in benefitting the United States, similarly to China, but in the political sphere, by contrast, the United States has tried to influence many African states through aid attached to anti-communist rhetoric during the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, U.S. foreign aid arrived alongside the rhetoric of “development,” as a way to encourage African states to position themselves under the American sphere of influence. Increasingly, in the 2000s and the U.S. “War on Terror” and beyond, there was a huge change in how U.S. foreign aid was given in Africa. The United States now primarily offers African states is military aid, which can be defined as better training for state military personnel, equipment supply, and the cooperation of many African states together, all as part of anti-terrorism efforts.

Some might argue that the aid that is given to Africa doesn’t help the problems but only makes them worse. Dambisa Moyo, an economist at Cambridge University, writes, “The aid has gone mainly to governments. This has produced corruption and made the control of the state the main path to wealth and prosperity. This, in turn, has led to an insurrection, political instability, and civil war. Political instability makes private investment in Africa out of the question, furthering the government’s addiction to foreign aid.” This quote highlights the idea that the aid given to a government only increases the dependence on the foreign aid for the state.

Since independence, between the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and many other countries in the Global North, the contribution of foreign aid has created many long-term effects that can still be seen today, effects that are not always predictable but are always complex.


“Weaning Africa off Foreign Aid.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 63 (2009): 85.

Goldsmith, Arthur A. “Foreign Aid and Statehood in Africa.” International Organization 55, no. 1 (2001): 123-48.

Englebert, Pierre, and Kevin C. Dunn. Inside African Politics. Boulder, CO: Rienner, 2013.

Religious Foods in Africa

Religions in Africa

Prior to the introduction of religious holidays into Africa, there were many native religions. Despite the vast amount of native religions that each had various traditions and beliefs, they also had many similarities. The main thing that they had in common was the profound effect on the daily lives of Africans. The way they thought, acted, and even who they interacted with was all dependent on their religion and religious beliefs.

Picture34In addition, all religions in Africa had a variety of shared values: “a belief in one God above a host of lesser gods or semi-divine figures; a belief in ancestral spirits; the idea of sacrifice, often involving the death of a living thing, to ensure divine protection and generosity; the need to undergo rites of passage to move from childhood to adulthood, from life to death” (“The Story of Africa”).

Despite the large amount of native religions, today, most of the continent follows Christianity or Islam. 


How did non-native religions get to Africa?


Islam was first introduced to Northern Africa when Muslim refugees came to seek safety from the Arabian Peninsula. The spread continued in the 600s, following Mohammed’s death, when an invasion spread the culture into Western Africa. This was further spread into East Africa, in the eighth century, as trade between West Asia and East Africa began to be more prominent. The first Africans to convert to Islam were Sudanese merchants. The conversion was mainly done by elites: In the 11th century, elites in Ghana began to convert and elites in Mali followed in the 13th century. The spread continued, despite not getting a lot of attention by those of lower social classes, but was sporadic and did not follow any patterns.


According to fable, Christianity was brought from Israel to Egypt in 60 AD by an evangelist. It then slowly spread both east and west. As time progressed, it became a more widely used religion, even becoming the official religion in Ethiopia in the 4th century. In the seventh century, Islam began to become more widely practiced, when compared to Christianity, in the North. It was not completely eradicated, as it was still practiced in some areas, such as Ethiopia. In the fifteenth century, Christianity was spread to Sub-Saharan Africa when the Portuguese arrived and in 1652, the Dutch Reform Church began to be founded. There were still large areas in the middle of the continent that continued practicing native religions until the 1800s, when Christian missionaries came over. They were successful in causing religious changes from native religions to Christianity but were not as successful in causing change from Islam to Christianity.

More information on religion can be found at “The Story of Africa” and “Trade and the Spread of Islam in Africa”.


Holidays in Africa

Because western religions are celebrated in Africa, so are the holidays that come with the various religions. There are many other holidays, though, that are specifically celebrated in each country.

For example, Botswana is primarily Christian; therefore, they celebrate Christmas and Easter, but they also have other national holidays. They have Sir Seretse Khama Day in order to celebrate their first president and Botswana Day to celebrate their independence and Botswana Day to celebrate their independence. At these large events, it is custom to have dances, festivals, speeches, and food. At ceremonial, large, public events, it is common for the men to cook the main part of the meal, which consists of large cast iron pots filled with meat that cooks until tender. Women prepare the side dishes often consisting of “porridge and/ or rice, pumpkin/squash, and often cole slaw or beet salad” (Countries and Their Cultures).

Even holidays that are religious ones celebrated in other regions of the world celebrate with different foods depending on the region.

For instance, again using Botswana as an example, due to the Christian religion, Christmas is celebrated. Combining the Botswanan traditions and Christian ones, the national food, Seswaa (a dish consisting of beef or goat stew over corn porridge), is made. The tradition of giving gifts occurs in Botswana but is less common due to the largely impoverished nation. Instead, the day is filled with family, friends, and traditions.

An example of an Islamic tradition is Eid al-Adha, which is the feast that occurs after a sacrifice. As such, meat, typically, cow, lamb, or goat, is consumed for this Muslim holiday internationally. In Côte d’Ivoire, while this tradition occurs, the animal that is typically sacrificed and served is a sheep, camel, or ox and is served “with sauce, rice, yam or eggplant, salads, and soups or stews” (“Côte d’Ivoire”). This is due to the availability of animals in the region, as well as the accompaniments being foods that are more common and indigenous and therefore available.

The traditional way that most of the religious holidays are celebrated (religious service, fasting, parties, etc.) tend to generally follow the customary, common international practices. Most of the food that is eaten in African countries on holidays are very dependent on the availability of ingredients. They tend to include dishes that are not specific to a certain holiday, but rather dishes that are specific to the region.

This website has a list of all of the public holidays in the various countries in Africa: “Public Holidays Global

Here is more information on “The Holiday Traditions of Botswana

Here is more information on “Côte d’Ivoire”.

Climate Change and African Food Security

The effects of climate change are becoming more and more visible in our daily lives.  The newsfeed is filled with stories about stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, and record-breaking wildfires.  The impact of climate change on the United States is both clear and staggering, but what if I told you that the North America has far less to lose than other continents when it comes to climate change.  The continent that perhaps has the most to lose is Africa.  In fact, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the African continent will be affected more by climate change than any other continent on Earth.  Climate change in Africa has already hindered efforts to create greater food security, and is projected to continue to threaten those efforts in the future. This blog post will examine how climate change directly impacts African food security directly through loss of useable land, and indirectly through water shortages and an increased likelihood of conflict.


It is estimated that 70% of Africans rely on the land for their livelihoods, which makes having arable land vital not just to African economies, but African life in general.  Climate change has brought about a significant threat to arable land around the world.  In fact, according to a 2015 report, the Earth has lost nearly one third of its arable land in just the past 40 years due to climate change.  This is a huge problem for the continent of Africa because, as the availability of arable land is expected to continue to decrease at a rapid pace, the population is expected to boom in the 21st century.  Africa, with a current population of just over 1 billion, is expected to see that number rise to 4 billion by 2100, a number so large that one out of every three people on the planet will call Africa home.  That means that there will be more mouths to feed, making the food security puzzle even more challenging.

To add to the land-use problem, Africa is already strained when it comes to feeding all of its people, forcing farmers to increase crop yields and overuse their soil.  A 2013 report by an agricultural group found that about 65% of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain food production in the future.  Increasingly, Africa’s agriculture and livestock sectors are being asked to produce more with fewer resources and under more difficult conditions.  This makes for serious concerns about Africa’s ability to feed their population.  To make matters worse, the reduction of arable and fertile land is just one of the ways in which climate change will negatively impact food security.

Just as the name would imply, climate change is disrupting weather patterns and altering the climate in ways that some regions are not used to and that many crops cannot grow in.  At their extremes these alterations in weather patterns has brought both flooding a drought; both of which are detrimental to food security.  Though not covered as extensively as drought, flooding is a serious issue in Africa where weak infrastructure is not built to handle flooding.  Earlier this year, flooding in Nigeria killed over 100 people and destroyed rural farming communities.  This is not an isolated incident; flooding in Mozambique in 2000 killed 800 and left 1 million people without a source of food.  On the opposite side of the coin, droughts can also be devastating to food security, and climate change has been tied to an increase in drought frequency and intensity.  One example of this is the drought in East Africa in 2011.  This drought, which drew attention from the international community, lasted more than two years and impacted the entire region.  In Somalia, the levels of malnutrition were six times what the UN considers an emergency, and a disproportionate number of victims were children under the age of 5.  Food security was threatened for 12 million people.  Droughts are not contained to East Africa; Africa as a whole is very susceptible to drought due to its reliance on season-specific rainfall (aka rainy season).


Another impact of climate change that is correlated very closely with food security is water availability.  Africa’s relationship with water is already bad before we talk about the future of water in Africa as a result of climate change.  319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live without reliable access to a clean water source.  Just as people depend on water for survival, so too do crops and livestock, which rely on irrigation systems from Africa’s natural sources of water (rivers, lakes, glaciers, etc.).  The problem is that those natural sources of water are now threatened by both climate change and pollution.  The story varies by region.  In West Africa, huge populations rely on a few crucial rivers as not only a source of water, but in all aspects of the economy and food production chain.  The River Volta in Ghana is a textbook example of this.  In addition to providing water and irrigation to the entire region, the river is also the lifeblood of the fishing and boating industries.  Additionally, the Akosombo Dam in Ghana is the country’ single largest provider of electricity.

In East Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers act as a natural water tower and provide water to most streams and lakes in the region.  Climate change is melting the glaciers at an alarming rate though, and the IPCC estimates that as much as 82% of the ice that was there when the first measurements were recorded in 1912 have now melted.  If the glaciers are to completely disappear, it would seriously threaten the food security of much of the region.


A final way that climate change is threatening to be extremely detrimental to food security in Africa is through its propensity to lead to violent conflict.  There is a vicious cycle where climate change leads to a lack of resources and lack of resources leads to conflict; both things contribute to food insecurity.  There are many who believe that climate change is to blame for things like Darfur and that similar incidences like occur with greater frequency in the future if climate change is not curtailed.  One model shows that a one-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures will correlate to a 49% increase in the likelihood of civil war.  Civil War and conflict lead to greater food insecurity because they topple food production systems, lead to refugee crises, and disrupt economies.Picture26The world will have to come up with a solution to the issue of climate change or else there could be human suffering on an epic scale in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa.


Egusi sauce

Egusi sauce is made in the Central African Republic. Egusi sauce is made from the seeds of certain forms of squash, melon, or gourd. The soup is served atop rice, cooked vegetables or grilled meat, such as goat, chicken, beef or fish. This dish isn’t unique to just the Central African Republic, but people in many other central African countries also eat Egusi sauce. Egusi seed is also made into a soup in other parts of Africa. In most forms of egusi, cooks tend to add a host of different peppers into their sauce; this addition of heat can connect the world together.

1 small onion
1 tomato
1 Poblano pepper (or other chili pepper – go hotter if you’d like!)
chili powder, to taste
1 1/2 cups egusi, ground

In a food processor, add tomato, onion, and chili pepper. Puree, then add to a pot with the egusi, some chili powder (as desired) salt, pepper, and enough water to make the mixture into a sauce-like consistency.

Cook 5-10 minutes until the raw onion flavor dissipates.

Serve with extra chili power on top. Great with grilled meat.