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Demystifying Africa; Myths and misconceptions

Myths and misconceptions have clouded the thoughts of most, making them miss out on what is otherwise one of the richest places on earth. Okay, to be fair, I am an optimist. Maybe Africa is not where we are supposed to be for one reason or the other. I can get political here but I won’t 😛 National geographic and Discovery Channel have done a great job promoting Africa’s biodiversity. Scenes from what is otherwise a brilliant exposé, if I may, have unfortunately been misconstrued by most to mean that we are all about wildlife. Don’t get me started with CNN. Ebola, HIV/AIDS, poverty, and war are some of the issues that the global media are never short of. We have our share of problems, but that does not define us. Apparent ignorance or the sheer lack of knowledge, whatever it is, hope this post will help debunk some of the myths about the “dark continent”.

“How do you say hello in your mother tongue?” Such a question will excite you if you are half as proud of your heritage as I am. So, I go ahead and answer “Habari yako”. I am also kind to chip in synonyms like “jambo” and everything else. But wait, that was not what they were hoping for; they always heard that all Africans use click sounds.

Being an African, and having often been faced with situations that needed me to explain myself and my continent, here is a list of the most common myths and misconceptions on Africa.

  1. Africa is a continent, not a country

I gave a real life example on the intro. Only Swahili-speaking Africans got the words I used. The continent is made up of around 54 countries, with very diverse cultures. I mean, my country alone has more than 42 tribes with hundreds of dialects. There are more than 2000 languages spoken in Africa. It is even impossible to speak “Kenyan” let alone “African”. Every country has their flag, their government, their currency, identity, cuisine, and music. Guys should stop already, it even sounds weird.


BTW I need a visa to most African countries

Every country has their passport. BTW I need a visa to most African countries

  1. We do not speak African

I have mentioned that above but seriously this can never be overemphasized. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language, with over 170 million people using it. This is followed by English (around 130 million), Swahili (100 million), French (115 million), Berber (50 million), Hausa (50 million), Portuguese (20 million) and Spanish (10 million). These are the main languages. Most Africans speak up to 4 languages – that’s how diverse we are. People are often shocked to hear us converse in “normal English”. By God, most Kenyans (case in point) know more English than what should otherwise be their native language.

By the way I’m yet to meet someone who uses click sounds. So to say that we all speak the same language is a huge lapse of judgement


  1. We live in huts

As unbelievable as that may sound that is one of the most commonly asked questions. One should visit our un-mud-hutted cities to see just how far from the truth that is. With a visual diet of rolling savannas and lions always on the hunt, it could be difficult to picture a continent that is home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities. Granted, there are rural areas with huts but that is being rapidly overcome by economic development and massive rural-urban migration. Yes, that implies cities, piped water, electricity, internet, and brick houses. It’s worth noting that people pay hundreds of dollars per night for a hut somewhere out of town. Quite the irony, isn’t it?

Confused on whether to focus on the sky, the architecture, or the lights. I say sky!

Confused on whether to focus on the sky, the architecture, or the lights. I say sky!

  1. Everyone owns a pet lion/zebra/insert any animal expected in the Savanna

The continent has been cultivated as a safari haven, I know. But that should not have such irreparable effects on common sense. “Yes, I own a gazelle and a lion. Which one I take to work depends on the traffic and whether or not there is a parking spot”. You will find chicken straying on the streets, and in the case of Nairobi – the only city in the world with a national park in the city center- some lions! Seriously, these animals are found in game-controlled areas. This is one of the myths and misconceptions I have the most fun with!

  1. Africa is plagued by poverty and is always at war

This is one of the rather unfortunate myths and misconceptions. Not all African countries have descended into economic and political turmoil. Contrary to popular belief also, not everyone is corrupt. It is disheartening to have all the focus shone on unfortunate events that are not the preserve of Africa, and forgetting every other “good”. Most of Africa is made up of young countries trying to figure themselves out. We have learned to live peacefully with each other despite our numerous differences resulting from different ethnic cultures.

  1. Black African

Not all African people are black. Many people call Africa their home. African is not a race. The array of diversity in this continent is shocking. Every skin pigment known to man is present here. Immigrants from all over the world settled here, and their descendants have since not known any other place to call home.


Do you know of other stereotypes than need debunking? Are the myths and misconceptions outlined above accurate? Have further concerns about Africa? Let us know in the comments section.


Cheers to exploring Africa’s unmatched beauty!