4 September 2012

Poorest Country in the World: Running the Numbers

Congo's famous for a lot of things. Perhaps you've heard some of our superlatives:
It's hard to understand what any of this really means. Recently I was talking with a friend -okay, I was being super nosy- and here's a glimpse of what life is really like for a typical Kinois (person from Kinshasa).

It's probably not fair to say that "Jean" is typical. He is a skilled worker at a good organization. His job is secure. This is very rare and he is very lucky. Still his monthly pay is about $360. (The average annual income for a Congolese is $210. I repeat, annual income.) When I asked what his wife does he said, "Oh nothing." Really? Come on. What does she do every day? "Well she sells things at the market."

Jean's wife, Bibi, buys a 50 kilo sack of green beans from a distributor for around 60,000 francs. This is around $65. She divides this into 1 kilo portions to sell in the market. If she's lucky, she profits $8 to $10 after she's sold the whole sack. This takes about 2 weeks. That's right, $8 to $10 after 2 weeks of work.

Jean and Bibi have 6 children. Three girls and three boys. Their house has 2 bedrooms and a small living room. Here's what the rest of their expenses add up to look like over a month. *These, of course, are all estimates:

Rice: $25
Fufu: $20
Beans: $20
Pondu and other greens: $15
Tomatoes, rice, peppers, onions, cooking oil: $20
Bread, tea, sugar, butter, milk: $100
Charcoal for cooking: $20
Electricity (usually not on): $5
Water (at shared outdoor faucet): $12
Phone credit: $5
Rent: $70
Transportation to and from work: $50

Monthly Total: $362 vs. Monthly Pay: $360

Here's when that extra few dollars Jean's wife can make at the market becomes essential for his family. With a budget like this, an illness can be catastrophic and there's no possibility for savings.

Still there are many families where no one is employed. I have no idea how they do it. Or anyone, for that matter.

It doesn't take long in Congo to understand our list of superlatives.

Bonus: Here's a peek inside some Congolese homes.


  1. For the average Congolese person whose income is $210/yr ($17.50/mo), how in the world do they make ends meet? According to your numbers, that may not even be enough to cover rice, much less rent, water, charcoal, etc.

  2. I know, it's baffling. I suspect we might also have the highest rate of people living in nothing that resembles a suitable place to live. And eating nothing that resembles a meal. A horrible combination of poverty meeting an extremely high cost of living (compared to other developing nations).

  3. I should also add that the Congolese family here might pass as the Congolese middle class. Having enough in your budget for butter and milk is living pretty high on the hog here.


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