When you travel out of Africa and meet individuals who have never been to the continent, most of the time they tend to have certain perceptions that depict the continent in ways that are either not factual or are misleading. Today, we look at 10 common misconceptions and stereotypes about Africa that have been passed on through various forms of media for decades and are believed to be the true representation of the continent.
Africa is a country
One of the most common misconceptions is that Africa is one large country. Africa is a continent made up of 54 countries, with each country different from the other in terms of political, social and economic structures. For instance, in political spheres, some African countries have heads of states who are kings. The monarchies of Africa include Morocco, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Some African governments are headed by a Prime Minister while others by a President. The 54 countries are all diverse and unique in their own way, and it is a miscue to think of them as one large country.
Africans Speak African
If you have travelled overseas from the continent, there is a likelihood that you have met someone who has asked you to teach them to speak ‘African.’ Not once have I faced this misconception, and the first time this happened to me, I thought I had misunderstood the request and asked if my new friend meant Swahili, as that is the language spoken in my country. ‘African’ as a language does not exist. The continent is a stronghold for diversity, and with this comes thousands of different languages spoken within it. It is estimated that there are over 2,000 languages spoken in Africa, with some countries like Nigeria having over 200 languages spoken by different ethnic groups. However, it is important to note that there are some languages that are spoken across many countries; for instance, Swahili in East Africa, Zulu in Southern Africa, among others, but this does not translate to ‘African’ language.
Man and Wild Animals Live Together
Another common misconception is that Africa is a huge forest that man and wild animals coexist in together. This misconception denotes that we keep wild animals like lions or leopards, as well as other wild animals as pets, and that it is common to see lions roaming in city streets. It is true that Africa is home to many wild animals, but it is not factual that they roam in the streets. A common story is told of a visiting tourist that shook his head in dismay upon landing at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. To the tourist’s dismay, he realized he had landed in an airport in a city that looked much better than the rural town he came from. According to the middle-aged tourist, all the content he had consumed about Africa, safari drives, and the wild in Africa made him believe he would see wild animals roaming the airport immediately upon landing.
All Africans Live in Huts
There is a common misconception that all African people live in grass-thatched huts made of mud and dung. It is true that mud huts are one of the most common forms of housing in rural areas on the continent, but it would not be fair for us not to mention the rapidly growing urban centers throughout the continent. Many African nations are going through economic growth, which is leading enormous growth in cities with brick and stone houses, clean tap water, internet connectivity, and electricity, as well as other basic necessities that are accessible to residents in some of the world’s best cities. The skyline of most African cities is nothing short of beautifully architecturally designed skyscrapers that have become a source of pride for their home countries.
Lack of Technology
One of the most common ways of slighting or insulting an African on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook is by someone who has never been to the continent retorting, ‘I didn’t know they have internet in Africa,’ or ‘I didn’t know Africans use computers.’ This is derived from the common misconception that has been advanced for decades that the continent lags behind in technological advancement, or worse, that there is no availability of technology on the continent. When it comes to technology, Africa has almost everything the rest of the world does. Although we may be slightly behind, technology is fast growing on the continent. For instance, Africa is the fastest region when it comes to mobile growth. It is estimated that over 67% of the population on the continent have mobile phones, and 27% have a device that can access the internet. Simply put, 27% of the total population of Africa have mini computers at their disposal! Africa is not only thriving on mobile technology and internet, but also other forms of technology that contributed immensely to the day-to-day life on the continent.
All Africans are Dark Skinned
A common stereotype is that all Africans are dark skinned. This is not true. We do have different skin pigments and different shades of black for the different tribes and different regions around the continent. It is also important to note that there are also immigrants from other continents who have come to Africa many generations ago, and their descendants have settled on the continent ever since. A good example is South Africa, which is also called the Rainbow Nation because of the diversity it is known for when it comes to matters of skin color.
Africa is a Continent Full of Corruption, Poverty and War
A common stereotype about Africa is that the continent is poverty-stricken, full of corruption, and always at war. This is an incorrect representation of the continent that is so vast and with diverse political, social and economic differences. Majority of countries on the continent are peaceful and full of welcoming people. We have also witnessed free and fair elections happening with peaceful handover of power to democratically-elected leaders. On matters of corruption, some countries in Africa have been ranked among the most corrupt-free nations in the world by Transparency International. According to the 2016 corruption perception index, Botswana was ranked 35, and Cape Verde ranked 38 out of the 176 countries and territories surveyed.
All African Countries are Poor and Depend on Aid
An economic misconception is that all African countries are poor and survive on aid. The continent is rich with natural resources, and each country has its own economic activity that their governments pursue. Indeed, it is true that a huge amount of aid is sent to different countries around the continent, but it is also important to note that not all countries depend on aid to improve the lives of their citizens. On the contrary, some of the best governed and most developed African countries receive little or no foreign aid at all.
Africa is a Desert
Africa is not a vast stretch of desert as many tend to believe. Even though it is home to the Sahara Desert, it only covers a third of the continent. Other parts of the continent are made up of rain forests, fertile lands used for farming, and bodies of water. The contrasting landscapes are all beautiful in their own ways.
Africans Share a Homogenous Culture
Not once have I been asked if I can jump and dance like a Maasai or run a marathon, and I am often met by surprised looks when I say I cannot do any of that. It is a common misbelief that Africans share a single culture because they are Africans. This is simply not true. In fact, Africa is so rich in diverse culture that no country throughout the continent is governed by the same culture. Undeniably, there are common cultures like Ubuntu; however, each ethnic group possess their own unique set of cultural beliefs that they adhere to. This can be showcased through dress code, piercings, skin marking, and through food, as well as other tribal traditions.