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5 Common Misconceptions About Africa

Uriel is an intellectual property lawyer, a fiction writer, and a language enthusiast.

Learn about the five most pervasive misconceptions many non-africans have about the world's second-largest continent.

Learn about the five most pervasive misconceptions many non-africans have about the world's second-largest continent.

Africa: The Cradle of Mankind

I am from Cameroon, a beautiful country located in Central Africa that is sometimes referred to as "Africa in miniature." Aside from Cameroon, I have been to three other African nations and currently reside in Canada. Through books, television shows, my personal experience, and the experiences of friends, I've learned that there are five major misconceptions that many non-Africans have about Africa in general.

5 Incorrect Assumptions About Africa

  1. Africa is a country.
  2. Africa has a common language.
  3. Africans lack basic commodities.
  4. Africans have no access to technology.
  5. All Blacks are Africans and all Africans are dark-skinned.

With clear facts and figures, I will address each of these misconceptions and give you an African's perspective on Africa.

A Map Showing the Countries in Africa

A Map Showing the Countries in Africa

1. Africa Is a Country

With 11.7 million square miles of surface area and 54 countries, Africa is the second-largest continent after Asia. This does not, however, prevent many non-Africans from considering and referring to Africa as if it is a country, especially in the following ways.

Not Mentioning a Specific African Country When Describing an Experience

Consider the following sentence. "Peter went to Africa last year and had the time of his life!" You would hardly hear someone who spent their vacation in Milan say "It was such a good time in Europe this year!" unless they visited other European cities or countries as well. Not naming a particular African country implies that the speaker considers the whole continent to be the same general place.

If asked outright whether Africa was a country, most folks would know to say no. In practice, however, non-Africans treat the continent as homogenous by failing to mention a specific country when describing an event or experience.

Africa is not a single place with a single language or single culture. Be specific about what you are discussing!

Africa is not a single place with a single language or single culture. Be specific about what you are discussing!

Assuming That All Africans Know Each Other

It is not uncommon to hear sentences like "Oh you're from Africa? I have a neighbor who is African too, you may know him, his name is . . ." And the person genuinely expects you to know their neighbor because to them, Africa is a small village.

In fact, there are about 1.3 billion people on the African continent; if I don't know all 400 people in my undergraduate class, you really can't expect me to know over a billion individuals spanning an entire continent.

Expecting Africans to Know Everything About Africa

Hear this once and for all: Africa is too big for someone to be familiar with the geography, economics, or politics of the entire continent. Just because you heard some news about something happening somewhere in Africa doesn't mean that the next African person you meet is going to be aware of or concerned about it. Like people from anywhere, most Africans are conscious of events occurring in their home country and possibly one or two neighboring countries.

2. Africans Have a Common Language

With well over a thousand spoken languages, Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world. In my country of origin alone, there are more than 250 tribes, each with a different dialect. For some reason, though, some non-Africans believe that people from different African countries can easily communicate with one another in some sort of shared language. This could not be farther from the truth!

Even though some dialects are spoken in multiple parts of the continent, there is no such thing as a common African language. Apart from the European languages that were adopted by many African nations, national languages in Africa can be classified into four groups, which I have summarized in the table below.

Group of LanguagesNumber of Languages in each GroupParts of Africa Where the Languages Are Spoken

Afro-Asiatic

About 200 Languages

The Horn of Africa, Central Sahara, North Africa, and the Sahel

Nilo-Saharan

Approximately 100 Languages

Central and Eastern Africa

Niger-Congo

Over 1000 Languages

Sub-Saharan Africa

Khoisan

Between 30 and 50 Languages

Southern Africa

This is the way African children are generally presented to the world in media.

This is the way African children are generally presented to the world in media.

3. All Africans Lack Basic Commodities

Thanks to "poverty porn," Africa has earned the image of a desperate continent that consistently needs to be rescued. To date, many think of Africa as a desolate place where people can barely afford a meal per day and have never had access to potable water, clothing, or education. I couldn't agree more with Bill Gates in his article "Why does hunger still exist in Africa?", in which he states:

"I run into a lot of people from rich countries who still think of Africa as a continent of starvation. The fact is, that’s an outdated picture (to the extent that it was ever accurate at all). Thanks to economic growth and smart policies, the extreme hunger and starvation that once defined the continent are now rare."

In addition, today more than ever before, Africans have access to basic education, which is made free or very affordable by most governments.

4. Africans Have No Access to Technology

I know a young Nigerian man who went to the UK for his undergraduate studies a couple of years ago. One of his course-mates, obviously a non-African, asked him one day how he was able to gain admission to a university in the UK, whether they had internet in Africa, and how he had traveled. The young man looked at his fellow student and said:

"We plug cables into trees to have access to the internet. To travel, we cut trunks and navigate on them until we reach our destination."

The annoyingly condescending question certainly warranted a teasing answer. Contrary to popular opinion, Africa is not a giant forest full of creatures stuck in prehistory.

The continent has evolved with the rest of the world, and there is probably no major technological advancement that is not used in African countries nowadays. For instance, the internet penetration rate, which was barely 5% ten years ago, was reported to be at about 50% in the year 2019.

Africa's beauty is in its diversity. In this photo, we represent Tunisia, Cameroon, Nigeria, the Gambia, and Togo, respectively.

Africa's beauty is in its diversity. In this photo, we represent Tunisia, Cameroon, Nigeria, the Gambia, and Togo, respectively.

5. All Blacks Are Africans and All Africans Are Black

Not all brown or dark-skinned individuals are Africans or of African descent. There are indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia, India, and Oceania who are equally dark in complexion. It would be inaccurate to classify them as Africans just on the basis of their skin tone.

In the same vein, not all Africans are dark-skinned. For instance, North Africa's population is primarily made up of Arabs and Berbers, while about 8.7% of South Africa's population consists of White Africans of European ancestry. Even though brown and dark-skinned individuals comprise the majority on the continent, people of other ethnicities identify as Africans as well.

There is always something new out of Africa.

— Pliny The Elder

Get It Straight!

Africa is a multilingual and culturally diverse continent with a beautiful history that continues to be made every day. I hope this piece will help reduce the prevalence of clichés and misconceptions about the African continent and arouse some interest in discovering the many countries and cultures of Africa for what they truly are!

"Africa" by Yemi Alade Feat. Sauti Sol

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Uriel Eliane

Comments

Uriel Eliane (author) from Toronto on June 05, 2020:

Thank you Farrah! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Farrah Young from Lagos, Nigeria on June 05, 2020:

Spot on! This hub is choked full with important facts. I enjoyed reading it.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 05, 2020:

Uriel, I appreciated it and you'll welcomed.

Uriel Eliane (author) from Toronto on June 05, 2020:

Thanks Miebakagh!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 05, 2020:

Uriel, I agreed with you completely. Thanks.

Uriel Eliane (author) from Toronto on May 24, 2020:

Yes you're totally right. Thanks once more

Liz Westwood from UK on May 23, 2020:

It's easily done with the capsule system. Just ticking one box can cause chaos.

Uriel Eliane (author) from Toronto on May 23, 2020:

Thanks so much Liz! I fixed it, the third section is visible now. I truly appreciate your feedback.

Liz Westwood from UK on May 23, 2020:

You make some very valid points. I couldn't see the third section though, which was a shame, as this is a well-structured and interesting article.

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