Africa has long been a continent of mystery and intrigue. Despite the access to information and the travellers who’ve visited its countries, African myths and misconceptions abound.

12 Top African Myths and Misconceptions

  1. African mythsAfrica is one big country. Africa is the second largest continent in terms of area and population. Asia is the largest. The USA, China, India, Europe, and Japan would all fit within Africa’s borders. Its 54 countries have their own currency, flag, national anthem, history, cuisine, identity, and blend of cultures. Maps used in schools typically show Africa as smaller than it is.
  2. Africans speak African. Just as no one speaks ‘European’ or ‘Asian’ or ‘Chinese’, no one speaks ‘African’. In fact, 2,000 languages are spoken amongst the more than 3,000 distinct ethnic groups that live on the continent.
  3. All Africans have dark skin. Africans come in all skin tones, shades, and colours. Even within Africa’s ethnic groups are many body shapes, sizes. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described post-apartheid South Africa as a rainbow nation because of its diversity. Africans are more genetically diverse than the rest of the world combined.
  4. It’s always hot in Africa. You can imagine that you’ll find a diversity of climates in a continent the size of Africa. In fact, there is a range of distinct climate regions: equatorial, tropical wet and dry climate, tropical monsoon climate, semi-desert climate, and the desert climate. Snow is an almost annual occurrence in the mountains of South Africa.
  5. Africa is one big desert or one big rain forest. There are large rain forests and deserts, including Namibia’s Kalahari Desert. There are also mountains, plains, and an array of geographical formations. Many people who travel with Renedian are surprised by the diversity, and the need to prepare for a range of temperatures.
  6. Most people live in huts. Africa is so much more developed than the stereotypical view of villagers living in straw and mud or dung huts with cattle roaming outside. It’s true that mud huts are used by rural villagers but urban centres are modern cities, with a thriving arts scene, and rich cultures.
  7. Most people are poor. Poverty is a definite problem in many places in Africa. But not all Africans, or African nations, are poor. In 2016, South Africa ranked 33 out of 194 countries for GDP. Poverty is often caused by the unequal distribution of wealth rather than the lack of wealth. Most countries are experiencing a burgeoning middle class, changing that distribution.
  8. Africa is not safe. Crime occurs in African countries, just as it does in countries around the world. As in all cases, it’s wise to use common sense and be informed before venturing into strange areas. Be wary and wise, but not afraid. Rural areas are generally safer than urban centres. Botswana and Namibia are two of the most stable countries in the world.
  9. Africa is technologically backwards. Cell phones are as common in South Africa as they are in the United States—9 in 10 people have one. There are, however, areas that struggle to get electricity to power these devices. Most countries, especially in the south, have access to WiFi and 4G. As with other factors, there is a disparity between the wealthy and the poor.
  10. Africa is poor and in need of our help. There’s a perception that African countries are helpless and need intervention. The best way to help is to spend money in locally run guesthouses, cafes, and shops (all Renedian priorities). Get to know the locals and understand another way of life. It benefits everyone.
  11. Wild animals roam freely. It’s rare to see a large or dangerous animal in town, although you may have to watch for opportunistic monkeys and baboons. The most common animal sightings in and around rural villages are herds of cows or goats, or stray donkeys. Once away from people, you’re likely to see plenty of elephants, ostriches, and giraffes.
  12. Africa is full of disease. Some areas of Africa are impoverished and there are problems with disease control. Developed countries, like those visited on Renedian tours, have far less of a problem with this. Childhood immunization programs have made huge strides in combatting polio and measles. Yellow fever, typhoid, and rabies can be avoided in high-risk areas by the use of vaccines. Malaria can be avoided through the use of prophylactic medication. HIV/AIDS can be prevented by using the same universal precautions as in the rest of the world. Lisbon, Madrid, London, and Paris were all closer to the Ebola outbreak than Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nairobi, and Arusha.

The best way to dispel these myths is to travel there. It’s never been easier and Renedian Adventures would love to help you experience Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa as they really are.


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Photo credit: helga tawil souri on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA