Top myths/stereotypes about Africa that we all would love to see go away.

Most of us have probably taken geography in school and been bored as hell hearing the teacher explain latitude and longitude. Though we took it for granted then, we gained a lot of global knowledge that is now considered common knowledge. For instance, Australia is a continent and a nation; Portuguese, and not Spanish, is the national language of Brazil; and my favorite, the capital of Djibouti is Djibouti. But somewhere along our formal education, misinformation snuck in; whether it was through television specials that were supposed to be educational or teachers who were reading straight from the textbook without processing the information first. Y’all know where we’re going with this, as the title says there are many untrue ideas about Africa, the continent. Much of this is due to a dearth in interest/research which leads to fabrication, and of course our good friend Euro-centrism. What we tried to do here is come up with the top ten myths about Africa that are insulting and, if taken as fact, will make you look like a fool.

Africa is a Continent?
Let’s clear this up first and foremost. I know all you Clutchettes know this one, but we need to start schooling more people. Africa is not an Island, colony, or a nation. It is a vast continent with diverse ecosystems, biomes, cultures, and people. With hundreds of languages spoken, the Sahara, and multiple time zones, no one person, place or thing is the same.

Everybody Speaks African
Though English and French are the primary languages spoken in African nations, each ethnic group has its own unique language and among them various regional dialects. But somehow, many people in the West get the idea that African is one language composed of mainly click ‘noises’. First off, these foreign sounds are consonants that are likely used for letters C, Q, and X; they do not make up entire languages. Languages with click consonants are found in the region of East Africa and South Africa (i.e. Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho). You can find such tongues being taught at premier universities and learning institutions around the world.

Everyone Lives in a Jungle
Living situations might vary from place to place depending on the landscape, but people got to live someplace. Contrary to popular belief, most Africans do not live in those save Africa commercials. Although still dependent on agrarian/rural lifestyles, Africa is undergoing an explosion of urbanization. High rises, shopping malls and new housing developments are springing up with regularity in a concerted effort to cater to Africa’s growing middle classes. Cities like Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, Mogadishu, and Johannesburg are crowded with millions of people in search of education, jobs, or just a good time; such locations behold striking sky scrapers, lush beaches, and a colorful nightlife.

Egypt Was the Only History Maker
Being that history is one person’s account of controversial events of the past, a great deal of integral information often gets left out. Like how Africa had many nations and empires prior to colonization that thrived in culture, scholarship, and commerce (check any Nas album for musical commentary). We often get this idea that Africa’s greatness rests in Egypt where fair skinned pharaohs surpassed the entire continent. But let’s not forget the Songhai, Ashanti, Zulu, Igbo, and Shona empires that have made vast contributions to all of human history. (FYI: Those were just a few ethnic groups, please share any others you have come across in your studies).

Africa is All about Poverty
Enough with the starving Ethiopian jokes! Such comments are simplistic and insensitive to one of Africa’s (and the world’s) more serious issues. Africa is rich in natural resources and mineral wealth and so it goes without saying that, theoretically, it’s a wealthy place. But exploitation by outsiders – corporations and governments – and power hungry leaders have robbed the land dry. Sierra Leone, Congo, the Great Lakes region, the list goes on.  African creativity is at its peak, from fashion and music to art and culture, the continent’s creative talent is in abundance. Websites like Jamati, Naija Bella and Mimi showcase what the continent has to offer while Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s New News Out of Africa subtitled Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance does all it can to prove beyond doubt that the basket case scenario that’s often presented in the media is unfair and unbalanced. The (soccer) World Cup in South Africa in June will be a chance to show the world that Africa can put on a global event on a massive scale and do it well. It will be Africa’s chance to party to the world, something the continent is rarely allowed to do in the Western media.

The Whole Continent is at War/There’s No Democracy
Contrary to what you see and read, Africa has a number of thriving democracies. Ghana is often heralded as a beacon of hope for democracy on the continent with President Obama offering a personal seal of approval on his visit to the country last year. Botswana, the world’s biggest diamond producer, has also been hailed as an example to its continental peers. Let’s also not forget, that the majority of African nations have been independent for roughly 40 or 50 years, meaning we have a ways to go, but as you can see many of us are on a great start.

Women are Repressed
This is so not the case. Women have traditionally been held in high-esteem in African society as the matriarchs and foundations of a community. A case in point, Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world while all over the continent women sit in positions of high power e.g. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Luisa Diogo.

Everyone Practices Voodoo
Contrary to popular belief, modern day missionaries didn’t bring Christianity, in particular, and religion, in general, to Africa. In fact, the roots of Christianity on the continent can be found in the Bible and Ethiopia’s last remaining Jewish community, the Falash Mura trace their roots back to the biblical King Solomon. Today, Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in Africa, with Islam and traditional religions following closely behind. While church attendance in some parts of the world continues to decline, in Africa, the opposite is in fact true. Mission analysts at the Free Methodist Church of North America say their African churches are the fastest growing in their denomination and the largest Anglican province in the world is in Nigeria. That’s not to say that Christianity civilized the so-called ‘the dark continent’ (see below). African Traditional Religion has been demonized as being evil and destructive but, as with all faiths, there’s the good and the bad, the literal and the figurative. Many Africans, though defining themselves as Muslim or Christian, incorporate some elements of traditional religion in their faith.

Africans Can’t Help Themselves/Every African Wants to Leave Africa
The saying “out of adversity comes opportunity” rings particularly true in Africa and while the recession continues to cripple the West, African stock markets remains relatively unscathed. Big business is thriving in Africa as is individual enterprise. Carole Pinaud’s award-winning film Africa: Open for Business shows a different side to the continent, highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit that is striving to take care of itself and finding African solutions to African problems.

What Africans want is equality of opportunity. CNN’s African Voices is full of Africans doing big things both at home and abroad. And if Africans want to leave Africa, many people from outside the continent choose to make it their home. The largest numbers of African-Americans living outside of the USA are in Ethiopia and Ghana. Surely, there must be something drawing them there in their numbers.

Most Africans are Backwards and Unrefined
African nations are some of the few in the world, where indigenous groups still thrive and live their lives. For those of us who have grown up in Evangelical churches, we have heard the grave accounts of missionaries who went to remote parts of the world to share the Gospel and rescue such people from their primitiveness. Wait…isn’t that exactly what was done a couple hundred years ago with colonization? Just like the Amish choose to live their lives separate from the modern world, so do some African groups. Most Africans live in this century, but others have chosen to preserve their traditional way of life. So What?

These are some of the notions that attempt to undermine the continent of Africa and thus people of African descent. We are not trying to make it seem as though African nations are perfect, but they are definitely far from what is constantly portrayed in the media. All we ask you to do is think for yourselves and evaluate information thoroughly; so the next time you hear some deceptive fact about Africa, ask yourself, “did they really just say that?”

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  • Earpiece

    Great article! I’ll be borrowing from it (with a proper citation of you as the source, of course) for a similar post I want to put on my blog aimed at dispelling some of the same fabrications you mentioned.

    We post a lot of humorous stuff, but we delve into race, politics, society, law, and economics too. Check us out when you get a chance: