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24 Head Scratching Misconceptions People Have About Africa

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 southern-most 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 the world affairs.

Africa Is Not Just A Desert

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.

Benin's Mysterious Voodoo Religion Is Celebrated In Its Annual Festival
Photo by: Dan Kitwood/Getty Image

Misconception 12: “All Africans practice voodoo. . .

A good amount of Westerners seem to believe that Voodoo is the religion of Africa. Some of them even consider it as an African language.

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.

Another interesting read: 10 Most Infamous African Serial Killers in History

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).

Not All Africans Live In Huts And Trees Very False

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).

African Women Coding

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 cultre, make them especially popular for cultural-tourism.

African Cities Are Not All Slums And Dirty

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 1990’s, 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 hat are not a part of the Commonwealth, than the other way around).

Not All Africans Are Nigerian Scammers

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 renown 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.


Written by Hudson

Hudson is a freelancer writer, author, accountant, and techpreneur. He writes on topical issues relating to technology, business, entrepreneurship, self-help, society, and geopolitics. Following up on African affairs and writing on topical issues about Africa is one of those things that greatly inflames Hudson’s passion.

You can email him at: [email protected]