When you travel out of Africa and meet people who have never been to the continent, many of them tend to have nonfactual – sometimes outright offensive – perceptions about the continent and its people. This article will discuss as well as debunk some of the most popular misconceptions.
Man and Wild Animals Live Together
Perhaps the most popular misconception is that Africa is one huge forest where men and animals cohabit. It is even believed that wild animals, like lions and leopards, roam the city streets freely or live as pets in Africans’ homes. It is true that Africa is home to many wild animals, but it is not factual that they roam the streets. There is a story of a tourist who shook his head in dismay upon landing at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Far from his expectations, he realizedthat the city he had landed in 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 that he would see wild animals roaming the airport as soon as he landed.
All Africans Are Dark Skinned
Another common stereotype is that all Africans are dark skinned. This is not true. Africans have different skin tones and complexions, which often point to the region of the continent they are from. It is important to note that there are also immigrants from other continents who came to Africa many generations ago and their descendants have settled in the continent ever since. A good example is South Africa, which is also commonly referred to as ‘The Rainbow Nation’ because of the diversity it is known for in culture, heritage as well as skin color.
All African Countries Are Poor and Depend on Aid
There is an economic misconception that purports that all African countries are poor and survive on aid. It seems that there are some foreigners who do not know that Africa is in fact rich with natural resources and that each country has its own economic agenda that its government is pursuing. It is true that there are still some countries in Africa who rely on international aid to improve as well as sustain the lives of their citizens, however these are a handful – most developed African states receive little or no aid at all.
All Africans Are not Tech-savvy
It is not uncommon today to come across a post or comment on social media where a foreigner says “Oh, I didn’t know they have internet in Africa!” or “I didn’t know Africans used computers too!” Such statements are the basis of a misconception that has been fueled for decades, which is that the African continent lags behind in technological advancements, or even worse, that the internet is not available altogether! However, when it comes to technology and digital literacy, Africa has almost everything that the rest of the world has. Although we may be slightly behind, the use of technology is fast growing in the continent. For instance, Africa is the fastest region when it comes to mobile growth. It is estimated that over 70% of the population on the continent have mobile phones and 27% have a device that can access the internet. Africa is not only thriving in the mobile technology and internet scene, but also other forms of technology that have contributed immensely to day-to-day life in the continent.
Africa is a Country
One other frequent misconception about Africa is that it 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 as well as economic structures. For instance, in the political sphere,some countries have heads of states who are kings. The monarchies in Africa are Morocco, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Some African governments are headed by a Prime Minister while others are led by a President. The 54 countries are all diverse and unique in their own way and it is a huge mistake to think of them as one country.
Africa Is a Continent Full of Corruption, War and Poverty
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 a continent that is vast and has many political, social and economic differences. The majority of the countries on the continent are peaceful and full of very welcoming people. We have also witnessed free and fair elections happening, with peaceful handovers of power to democratically elected leaders. On matters of corruption, while it is a major issue in some countries, a few others have been ranked among the most corrupt-free nations in the world by Transparency International. According to the 2016 corruption index, Botswana was ranked 35, and Cape Verde ranked 38 out of 176 countries and territories surveyed.
It is true that the part of Western media in perpetuating harmful stereotypes about the continent cannot be overstated. However, the onus still lies on people to seek out true and accurate information, especially in the digital age we live in where knowledge is easily accessible.