Myths of the West about Africa

Myths and misconceptions about Africa are scary news by the west. On a recent episode of the American TV reality series, “Amazing Race”, one of the contestants exclaims, “There’s no snow in Africa!” Well, if you must know there is. This is just one example of the kinds of things many people think they know about Africa, but in fact they know nothing because are UNIQUE, BEAUTIFUL, BLESSED AND WONDERFUL. Below are some common myths I’ve heard over the years, and now you can help shed some light on what too many people still think of as the “dark continent”.

1. Africa is A Country
People often refer to “Africa” as if it is a country rather than a continent. Well, it is a continent and home to 54 independent, unique countries with the newest bride added to it and that’s South Sudan in July 2011. Which each country has its own currency, flag, anthem, history, cuisine, music, identity and cultures. In fact a continent with more than 2000 languages spoken and its 1 billion inhabitants are made up of over 3000 distinct ethnic groups. Africa is also bigger than most people think it is, even if they know it covers 30,221,000 sq km (11,679,000 sq miles). If you combine the USA, China, India, Europe and Japan – they all fit into Africa. In fact the USA fits into the African continent three times.

2. Africa is Dangerous and Violent
This is horrible right? They believe that Africa is a place full of wars, revolutions, pirates and child soldiers making the news, it’s really no wonder that the myth about Africa being a dangerous place is a common one. If New York City was judged by reading the New York Post, few tourists would dream of visiting. Of course bad news is news, so you don’t get to hear enough about the good things that happen on the continent. How often do you hear about Botswana or Ghana in the news? As a visitor to Africa it’s likely you’ll avoid certain countries — no one would suggest you spend a week at the beach in Somalia. There are countries, some cities and borders that are very dangerous, but given the size of the continent, it is not hard to see that there are many perfectly peaceful and safe places to visit..

3. Africa is Poor and Disease Ridden
Poverty is obviously something that comes to their head anytime they talk about Africa. But African countries are not all poor. It’s the distribution of wealth that’s the biggest problem. South Africa is an incredibly wealthy country. In fact its GDP outranks that of Belgium and Sweden. It has many natural resources, a good education system, excellent universities, sparkling business districts and very advanced hospitals. Unfortunately much of its population does not get to share the wealth. Did you know that Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria are all richer on paper (as per GDP and PPP) than Denmark and Norway? There are middle class people in every African country commuting to work every day, complaining about taxes and watching their kids play soccer every weekend.Diseases take millions of lives every year in Africa because the poor lack access to childhood immunization programs and basic health care, not because the continent is infested with scary illnesses. Successful immunization programs have made huge strides in reducing polio and measles in the last decade. 

4. African Politicians Are All Corrupt
Corrupt politicians aren’t exactly unique to Africa, but the continent does seem to have more than its fair share. At least Nelson Mandela showed the world that Africa is capable of producing an honest leader. Some of the political crises in Africa can be blamed on colonial legacy but most of it reflects greed and corruption on the part of incumbent presidents and political parties. 2011 elections in Uganda and Cameroon, the civil war in Nigeria, left the incumbents securely in place after questionable tactics and ballot counts. But the North Africans have certainly shown the way forward, starting with the Tunisian revolution and (so far) ending with the toppling of Libya’s Gaddafi. President Ellen Johnson Sir leaf of Liberia along with 2 other women received the Nobel Peace Prize. And Zambia had a successful and fair election with a change of ruling party.

5. Africa Has No History
It’s a common misconception that Africa has no history beyond its people scrabbling about trying to survive in a harsh environment. But consider the ancient Egyptian monuments, the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia, you obviously have proof of Africa’s rich history. In the 11th Century a flourishing kingdom we know now as Great Zimbabwe was built in southern Africa. Its walls are still standing today. In the 12th Century, while Oxford and Cambridge were just getting founded, Timbuktu in Mali already had three thriving universities and more than 180 Quranic schools. The San Bushmen living in the Kalahari desert may appear to be “living in the stone age” but they’ve been trading and inter-marrying with their neighbors for millennia. There are hundreds of caves all over southern Africa decorated by San ancestors that date back 20,000 years. No culture lives in a vacuum, every culture is dynamic. There’s plenty of history in Africa, we just don’t learn enough about it. just take a visit and you will be amazed.

6. Africa is technologically backward

The idea that technical innovation is lacking in Africa is laughable to anyone who has spent a little time there. In the Easten part of Nigeria entire cars are being re-built from scrap by “fitters”, all without an engineering degree. Walk through any school playground in Zambia and you’re bound to see a child play with a homemade toy car complete with steering capabilities. What some African nations lack is access to education and resources, innovation is in plentiful supply. Many people responded to the Malawian boy who harnessed the Wind, but this is actually the type of story that could be told many times over, just check out the Afrigadget blog, or the long list of African inventions gathered by Kumatoo.com. If you visit any country in Africa, you can’t help but notice that everyone is chatting away on their cell phones. Cell phones are in fact being used in hugely innovative ways throughout Africa. Kenya and Nigeria has established a highly effective mobile banking system, opening up rural areas to credit in ways that has revolutionized small businesses.

7. It’s Always Hot in Africa
If you’ve only visited West Africa, I’d say it would be entirely appropriate to say “it’s always hot in Africa”. But that’s where this myth stops. It snows in Africa, yes it does. Both northern and southern Africa experience cold winters with frequent frost, as well as hot summers. Mountains, plateaus, cold oceans, warm oceans, rainy and dry seasons — all affect weather patterns in individual countries as well. It is fair to say that conversations about the weather in much of Africa tends to focus more on whether its dry or wet, than about the temperature being hot or cold.
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