Throughout history, Africa has been poorly understood by Europe, and today the continent is still subjected to a plethora of misconceptions from outside onlookers, particularly the private media.
Below, we take on some of the most prolific Africa misconceptions, from poverty and aid, to ancient history and apartheid.
- It is Always Hot in Africa
Yes, the Sahara Desert is in Africa and it makes up about one-third of Africa’s landmass. This fact leads many people to think that the majority of Africa is sweltering hot and vast, open land of emptiness. The truth, however, is that deserts aren’t necessarily hot all the time and much of Africa is not a desert.
The northern part of Africa where the Sahara is located is called Northern Africa, and everything south of that is known as Sub-Saharan Africa.
Here are a few facts about Africa’s climate:
- It Snows in Africa. There are ski resorts in Morocco and quite a few other African countries. Africa’s high elevations experience snowfall, even those locations close to the equator. Locations in South Africa experience below-freezing temperatures throughout the winter.
- The Largest Vegetation Zone in Africa is Savanna. People commonly mistake Africa as one gigantic desert. The truth is that Africa contains deserts, rainforests, mountains and savannas. A savanna is a grassy plain with only a few trees, and it’s often found in tropical and subtropical regions. Many people accurately describe the African savanna as rolling grassland dotted with trees.
- The Temperature Variation is Vast. Africa is large, therefore it’s difficult to make any generalizations about the continent as a whole. There are, of course, changes in seasons and many different countries with different elevations. This makes it difficult to provide an average temperature. Asking for an average temperature in Africa would be like asking for the average temperature for North America and half of South America, combined.
- 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.’ 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.
- 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.
- It is Unsafe to Visit Africa
Negative associations and common misconceptions about Africa lead many people to falsely believe that all of Africa is unsafe to visit. Though there are parts of Africa that may not be recommended for foreigners to travel, that is not reflective of the continent as a whole.
Global news tends to focus on the negative, so many people around the world only hear of the wars, disease, and poverty that the continent has experienced. The news rarely covers anything about the emerging middle class in Africa countries or the beautiful locations on the continent.
Of course, if you were to visit Africa you would likely avoid certain locations, but there are plenty of perfectly safe locations to visit. The following places in Africa are popular for tourism:
- Morocco. There are pristine beaches, opportunities for trekking the magnificent landscape, plenty of history, and festivals to be discovered in a Moroccan adventure.
- South Africa. Cape Town and South Africa are continually named on must-see travel lists due to their rich culture, wildlife and beautiful landscapes.
- Senegal. Popular Senegal attractions include Goree Island, Dakar and Pink Lake. The Casamance Region is also popular for dolphin watching and visiting remote beaches.
- Ghana. With its rich history and diverse wildlife, Ghana is a well-travelled destination for tourists. The locals are known for being some of the friendliest in the world.
- Tanzania. A view of breathtaking Mount Kilimanjaro is enough to attract most people to Tanzania. But if that’s not enough, there’s also the Serengeti, multicultural food and welcoming locals.
It’s always recommended to take customary precautions when visiting a country that is foreign to you, such as enrolling in a smart traveler program, determining where your embassy is before traveling and getting your immunizations.
- 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.
Future Development of Africa
Africa is a continent with much to offer the rest of the world, and its entrepreneurial youth are determined to make an impact on society – on both local and global levels. Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa, a fact that serves as a testament to its ambition and potential for further development.
There are also many small, microfinance projects in the works, which help those suffering in poverty learn skills needed to earn a better living. The middle class is ambitious and working toward bridging economic gaps. In fact, 23 of African’s countries are now middle-income level.
Is Africa developing? Yes, it is without a doubt developing. It is happening faster in countries such as Rwanda or Cote D’Ivoire, and happening slower in other countries, such as Somalia. African countries are also maintaining relationships with non-African countries, specifically China. Such relationships are helping many African countries execute large infrastructure projects such as roads and dams.
As African countries continue to develop and work with other countries around the world, it’s vital to understand cultural differences. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Remember that Africa is a vast, culturally diverse continent. Standard greetings – and of course languages – will be different depending on the area. Learn an appropriate greeting before conducting business.
- Research cultural norms and expectations before you visit Africa or conduct business communications with someone from Africa. There isn’t one right way to interact with someone from Africa. Be sure to do your research so you present yourself in a professional and respectful manner.
- Know appropriate business card etiquette. In South Africa, standard business card etiquette is appropriate. The general rules apply – treat the card with respect, tuck it away, preferably not in a pocket, and add a comment to it if necessary.
- Understand that business is driven by relationships. Generally speaking, business relationships in Africa are driven by relationships more so than transactions – just another reason to communicate well.