During the Christmas period, I had the opportunity to return home to Australia for a few weeks. On meeting many friends and families, there was few interesting questions for which people will almost always pose:
- Question Number 1 – “How is Africa?”one would usually ask.
- Question Number 2 – “Is the living condition very bad over there and are the people very poor?”
- Question Number 3 – “How come you have not tanned? Isn’t it very hot in Africa?” the last question follows.
Behind the assumptions of these questions are several common African misconceptions. The truth is that these myths are rooted in misinformation, lack of knowledge and stereotypes.
Myth Number 1: Africa is not a country– rather it is home to 54 independent nations with more than 2,000 languages!
Recently, a friend of mine who serves in the slums of Kenya – country of East Africa – shared her experience where her Australian colleagues decided to avoid a physical meeting with her because they had heard about Ebola having erupted in West Africa. What her colleague failed to realise was that the physical distance between Liberia and France is in fact shorter than Liberia and Kenya. The chance that a local Kenyan was caught with Ebola is likely to be very slim. To these people in the west, Africa was one massive place.
A recent article published by The Guardian further noted that many public figures and journalists have no problem describing someone from Botswana and a person from Mauritania as “Africans”. Yet they probably wouldn’t call them “Americans” if they were from Brazil and the United States, even though the distance between the two is the same – and the economic conditions as different. Every African country is different, and each has its own cultures and subcultures. Moreover, the people of Africa’s countries speak a great variety of languages including Arabic, English, Swahili, French, Portuguese, Spanish and many more languages. Being a case in point to its diversity and fullness, approximately 25% of the languages spoken in African countries aren’t recognized anywhere else in the world.
Myth Number 2: Everyone in Africa Is Poor. This part of the world is often painted with a sweeping stroke of doom and gloom, yet it is recognised to host four of the world’s ten fastest growing economies!
While some of the poorest countries in the world are located in Africa, it’s worth noting that not every country in Africa is poor. Cities like Cairo, Johannesburg, and Nairobi, all of which are sprawling, busy cities and home to millions of people. These cities have brick-and-mortar buildings, top notch public transport systems, and every other conceivable modern amenity. In reality, Africa is also rich in many growing regions. With abundant mineral and natural resources, Africa is projected to be the oil and gas leader of the future.
Myth Number 3: Not everywhere is hot in Africa. The Sahara Desert is in Africa and makes up about one-third of Africa’s landmass which leads to the misconception that it is a place that is sweltering hot. The truth, however, is that deserts are not necessarily hot all the time and much of Africa is not a desert. Nairobi, where I currently live is situated on an elevated altitude making its temperature relatively cool even though it is located close to the equator. Moreover, it snows in parts of Africa. Morocco, for example has many ski resorts and parts of South Africa also experiences below-freezing temperatures during winter.
Africa is a vast, culturally and geographically diverse continent. Don’t allow these common negative African myths stop you from travelling in Africa!
Photos: The author had her wedding in Melbourne with Africa as the theme
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