When most Western citizens hear the word "Africa,” many imaginations, perspectives and misconceptions spring up. Americans are known to harbor some of the worst misconceptions about Africa compared to their Western counterparts.
There are thousands of misconceptions about Africa. However, we are going to explore the 25 most common misconceptions and the countries that are greatly associated with them.
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The following are the seven main countries where most misconceptions originate. They are also the countries where the sources of facts that counter most of the 25 misconceptions are established.
Northern Africa: Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya
These are among the most civilized countries in North Africa.
- Egypt: A country in the Eastern-most part of North Africa. It has both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea coastlines. It is famous for its River Nile, the Pyramids, and Pharaohs.
- Morocco: A north-western-most African country and the only one in Africa that shares both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines.
- Tunisia: Contains the northernmost part of the African continent. This country and it's capital, Tunis, are and have been very popular tourist attractions for a long time now.
- Libya: Plagued by recent events that put it in the world spotlight, Libya has much more to offer than just conflict. It's a country rich in history and culture.
Misconception 1: "Entire North Africa natively speaks Arabic.”
There is a general misconception that the entire people of North Africa speak Arabic. Morocco and Algeria are typical examples of this misconception.
Fact: One-third of Moroccans and one-quarter of Algerians do not speak Arabic as their first language. They speak Amazigh (native Berber language) as their first language. In addition, French is one of the most dominant languages in Morocco. Far more people in Morocco are fluent in French than Arabic.
Misconception 2: “Christianity in Africa was brought by European Missionaries.”
This is one of the most common misconceptions about Christianity in Africa.
Fact: Africa played a central role in the formation of Christianity. It is well-written in the Bible. Both Moses and Jesus grew up in Africa. The people who identify with modern-day Israel lived in Africa for more than 900 years. Africans had established Christianity long before continental Europe. Carthage (Tunisia), Tripolitania (Libya), and Alexandria (Egypt) were centers of Christianity long before Rome became one.
Simon (who helped Jesus carry his cross came from Libya) and Mark (the founder of the Church of Alexandria/Coptic Church/Eastern Orthodox Church, and the author of the Gospel of Mark) also came from Africa.
Misconception 3: “Africa is home to only black people.”
Most people regard Africa as one Black Country. In this regard, they do not consider North African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt as part of Africa. This misconception is fueled by the skin color, race, and development in Egypt and Morocco compared to most of the Sub-Saharan region.
Fact: Africa is not only in fact a continent but the second largest continent on earth in which entire North America and Western Europe can fit into and leave some space for Australia. There are more than 52 countries in Africa. The combined land area of the larger Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo is bigger than the combined land area of entire Western Europe.
Misconception 4: “Africa is dangerous and violent.”
Fact: With all the news sensualization about Somali pirates, child soldiers, coups, revolutions, and wars. It's no surprise that most people (Westerners especially), fear to step foot into Africa. Truth is, the events that make the news don't reflect all of Africa, whose nations have middle classes just like other European or North American countries.
It's true, as with any other place, that Africa has it's DONT's. But it's about common sense at the end of the day.
Misconception 5: "The entirety of Africa is a huge, densely forested, jungle."
Fact: Nope. Africa has the world's largest hot desert – the Sahara Desert. The Sahara Desert occupies most of North Africa. Africa also has two other deserts apart from Sahara – the Kalahari Desert and the Namib Desert. The Kalahari Desert occupies most of Botswana and the Namib Desert occupies the western coastal parts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa.
Misconception 6: “Egypt is not part of Africa.”
Due to the proximity of Egypt to the Middle East, more importantly as Israel’s neighbor, most Westerners cannot conceive the notion that Egypt is in Africa while Israel is in Asia. Furthermore, since most of Egyptians are not black but rather of Arabic origin, this helps to serve the misconception that Egypt is an Arab country. Unfortunately, a good number of countries in North Africa have added the word “Arab (Republic)” to their official title, adding to the confusion.
Fact: Being ‘Arabic’ does not mean 'not being African.' Arab is a sub-race rather than a region. Africa is a region (Continent) rather than a race. In fact, Egypt is one of Africa’s oldest civilizations.
Misconception 7: “Egypt has always been occupied by Arabs.”
Fact: Arabs started arriving in Egypt towards the beginning of the 7th century AD. Prior to that, the Nilotic people of Africa occupied Egypt.
Misconception 8: “Egyptian Arabs built the pyramids.”
Fact: Nilotic African groups, mainly the Nubians, built the Pyramids. These people (mainly black) are currently located in Sudan. In fact, there are a lot of pyramids in Sudan.
Misconception 9: “Pharaohs were Arabs.”
Fact: Again, Pharaohs existed long before Arabs came to Egypt. They were of Nilotic origin.
Misconception 10: “All people of Morocco are native Arabs.”
Fact: Berbers are the original natives of Morocco. Most people of Morocco have a mix of Berber-Arabic ancestry.
Southern, Western, and Eastern Africa: South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria
These are the leading lights in Southern, Western, and Eastern Africa, respectively.
- South Africa: This is the land of Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation”. It is the southernmost country in Africa. It is a nation with a rich history, culture, and wealth. It is infamous for its past as the home of the brutal Apartheid regime.
- Kenya: Kenya is an East African country famed for its wildlife, athletics, agriculture (tea, pyrethrum, and floriculture), youthful vibrant economy, mobile innovation, and enterprising spirit.
- Rwanda: An Eastern and Central African country infamous for the Rwandan genocide yet famous for its meteoritic rise from ashes of war to a modern State.
- Zimbabwe: Famous for its wildlife, high literacy levels, and its simple yet well-organized capital city.
- Nigeria: Africa’s most populous country. It is infamous for its ‘juju’ culture, high-level corruption, and multifaceted conflicts. Yet, being Africa’s largest economy, a country with the most vibrant film industry in Africa, Africa’s football powerhouse, and the largest source of Africa’s diaspora, Nigeria has its place in world affairs.
Misconception 11: “Africa is a desert.”
Contrary to those who think that Africa is a densely forested jungle, there are also those who have the misconception that Africa is a desert.
Fact: While most of those who hold this misconception erroneously think that ‘Africa' and ‘Sahara' are synonymous, the fact is that the Sahara Desert occupies just about one-third of Africa. With an exception of the Kalahari and Namib Deserts, most of Sub-Saharan Africa is naturally vegetative.
Misconception 12: “All Africans practice voodoo. . .”
Fact: Voodoo is mostly practiced in West Africa (mainly Togo and Benin). Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa do not practice voodoo. Most do have their own African religions but not voodoo. North Africans do not practice voodoo.
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Misconception 13: “Very few Africans speak English.”
Fact: Nigeria has the fourth-largest English-speaking population - after the United States, India, and Pakistan. World's renowned English literal giants such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka come from Nigeria. The combined population of English speakers in Africa makes Africa a place with the second largest population in the world where English is spoken as an official language.
In fact, there are more English-speaking countries in Sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe. Apart from South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, other English-speaking countries include Uganda, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, among others. Some are dual-speakers – such as Rwanda and Cameroon (Both have English and French as official languages).
Misconception 14: “There are no cities in Africa, only thatched-mud-house village centers. People in Southern Africa live in huts on trees.”
Fact: While most Africans traditionally lived in huts, these huts were not built on trees. Modern Africa, especially South Africa (Cape Town), has some of the most sprawling and affluent real estate in the world.
Misconception 15: “Afrikaans is the main language of Africa.”
Fact: Africa does not have one common language. Africa has over 1,000 different languages. Afrikaans is not Africa’s native language but the language of early Dutch settlers in South Africa.
Misconception 16: “There are no white people in Africa.”
There are many Africans who are white, Asian, and other shades of color. South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and most North African countries are typical examples. Even with native Africans, there are many shades of skin colors, some dark while others are light (brown/yellow).
Misconception 17: “Technology is yet to reach Africa (Wi-Fi, fiber internet, Smartphone, computers, etc).”
Fact: Africa leads in the rate of mobile phone connectivity, and is also among the leading populations with mobile internet connectivity. Internet speeds in some parts of Kenya are faster than in North America and Europe. Kenya leads the world in mobile money usage and is among the global giants in terms of M-commerce.
Misconception 18: “Most Africans are long-distance runners.”
Fact: Kenya is world’s leading country in terms of the highly successful history of long-distance athletics, the high number of international long-distance athletes and the sheer volume of long-distance athletics medals won.
It is rare to have a serious international marathon event without some Kenyan athletes in the forefront. Apart from Kenya, Morocco, Algeria and Ethiopia, very few African countries have had a consistent presence in long-distance running in the international arena. Thus, less than 10 out of 52 countries in Africa actively participate in long-distance races.
Misconception 19: “All Africans are ‘wild’ Maasai.”
Fact: Maasai are natively found only in Kenya and Tanzania. Though they have a rich and unique culture that makes them frequently highlighted in Western media, they are among the smallest communities in Africa. Their bravery and co-existence with Africa’s ferocious lions and other wild animals, plus their authentic and largely unadulterated culture, make them especially popular for cultural-tourism.
Misconception 20: “African Cities are dirty slums.”
Fact: There are many clean cities in Africa. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, ranks as one of the cleanest cities in the world. Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, is one of the most well-managed capital cities in the world.
Misconception 21: “Entire Africa faced the Rwandan genocide.”
Rwandan genocide hit international news headlines in the 1990s, which caused over a million deaths within 100 days. It was probably the fasted and most ferocious genocide ever recorded in recent history.
Fact: Rwanda is a tiny East African country that is less than one-hundredth of Africa’s population and land area. Though the genocide was atrocious, it by no means occurred all over Africa.
Misconception 22: “All Commonwealth countries in Africa are former English-speaking British colonies.”
Fact: Rwanda is a member of the commonwealth, yet a predominantly French-speaking and former French colony. Mozambique is another non-English speaking member of the commonwealth. (By the way, there are many more countries in Africa that are not a part of the Commonwealth, than the other way around).
Misconception 23: “All Nigerians, and therefore Africans, are scammers.”
Due to the past where Nigerians were the leading African nationality in the diaspora and some of whom had to survive in Europe by engaging in scams, most Europeans developed a false narrative that all Nigerians, and by extension, all Africans are scammers.
Fact: Most Nigerians live honestly. Only a very tiny fraction of them do scam business. There are many renowned Nigerians such as Emea Gwali (NASA scientist), Wole Soyinka (Novelist, Poet and Nobel Laureate), Chinua Achebe (literary giant), etc. Nigeria too has a high number of professional footballers, great pastors, and famous Statesmen.
Generalizations About the Wealth of African Nations
Due to civil strife and natural disasters in some parts of Africa that are dominantly covered in Western media, most Westerners think that all Africans are extremely poor, low class, and with no cities. This has led to some misconceptions, about the actual development of African nations.
Misconception 24: “Africans are extremely poor and medieval.”
Fact: Africa, just as a good amount of Western countries, has a significant poor low-class group. Yet, just like Western countries, Africa has a rich and affluent class. There are many schools, colleges, and universities in Africa.
In some African countries, literacy levels are higher than those of their Western counterparts are. Africa has many professionals, some of whom are granted ‘green cards' to provide their expertise in the Western world.
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As can be evidenced by facts, most misconceptions about Africa emanate from ignorance, prejudices, and perhaps a tad bit of Western media propaganda. Those Westerners who come to Africa for the first time get baffled when they realize that they were living a myth when it comes to Africa.
Tourism and unbiased information are the best ways by which these misconceptions can be erased from Western minds. We hope that the few facts provided herein have been able to trigger a conscious desire to know Africa more. Interacting with Africans and visiting Africa is the best way to have fast-hand unbiased knowledge of Africa.