10 common myths about Africa that are simply not true
The image of Africa portrayed through the media is often negative; think aid ads full of malnourished children with swollen bellies, violent tribal wars fought by psychotic warlords, abject poverty, and general dysfunction across the continent. These myths about Africa are boosted by blockbuster movies like Blood Diamond or Lord of War (thanks Hollywood!), and unfortunately, it’s led to a huge amount of stereotypes: it’s unsafe. Poor. Backwards.
We’re guessing you’ve probably thought a few them yourself, right?
Don't worry, you're not alone.
Travelling through the region though, you come to realise that the real Africa is a far more complex, interesting, and beautiful place than the media would have you believe. After spending three months backpacking Southern Africa, we felt liberated as the prejudices and views we once had disappeared, one by one.
We felt it necessary to tell the whole world that Africa isn't what its been made out to be - it's awesome! Here are the 10 most common myths about Africa, debunked.
#1 Africa is a country
NEWSFLASH! A country, Africa definitely is not.
All too often when people talk about this vibrant, diverse continent that’s home to over 54 independent countries and 1 billion humans - they reduce it down to a single nation.
In reality, Africa’s the world’s oldest populated area, and the second largest continent on the planet. It is vast, and the cultures that exist within it are even moreso. South Africa, for instance has an incredible 11 official languages (the UK has one), while across the continent, there are over 1500-2000 local languages spoken every day.
Plus, our ancestors all came from regions in Africa - cool, right?! Apart from Ethiopia and Liberia, the continent was also completely colonised by countries like France, Belgium, England and Germany - although most gained independence after WWII.
#2 Africa is cheap
This one is interesting, because for the most part, living in Africa is cheap (South Africa is super cheap for quality of living!). However, to actually travel through Africa is quite expensive.
Getting to Africa is a huge cost, with flights generally a lot more expensive than to other regions of the world. Think of the basic economics of supply / demand and you’ll understand why.
Be prepared to pay quite a lot if you want to safari, especially through famous southern African national parks such as the Okavango or Etosha Pan. Overland tours are popular yet expensive (you do get bang for your buck though), while local transport can be relatively cheap if travelling shorter distances.
Accommodation-wise, from luxury lodges down to shabby guesthouses, the prices were a lot higher than we’ve experienced elsewhere, and backpacking is generally not catered for. Camping is a cheaper option, but you’re still going to have to shell out about $8USD per night for a camp site.
Food, on the other hand, is reasonable, especially if you’re eating like a local - which you should!
#3 Africa isn't safe
War, famine, child soldiers, terrorism, crime, incompetent; if you believe the media reports, Africa sounds dangerous as hell!
Buuuut, it’s not, and you really can travel extensively throughout the continent without any issues.
We won’t deny the continent’s got a few issues here and there, like everywhere on earth. Avoid certain dangerous countries and you’ll be fine. For a start, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, and Ghana are some of the most stable on the continent, while Morocco, Kenya, and Tanzania have been huge tourism hubs for years.
You’re more likely to be killed with kindness by happy locals than be in any real danger at all. Be wary, exercise common sense, and enjoy the warmth of friendly, welcoming locals.
#4 Africa and its leaders are corrupt
We’ll be honest here; many countries, politicians and people in Africa are partial to a little corruption. But corruption doesn’t exist everywhere and with everyone!
Remember that Nelson Mandela guy? The revolutionary anti-apartheid politician who became president of South Africa? Yeah, he’s one of the most revered men in history and actively stood against corruption.
Heard of Ellen Sirleaf, Liberia’s president? She won a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work. No corruption here. It’s obvious Africa has some supreme and uncorrupt leaders.
Stories of travellers having to pay a bribe at a border or to get out of a situation are commonplace in Africa, however we’ve never encountered any incident like this. Most young Africans we met were working hard to make corruption a thing of the past.
#5 Dangerous animals roam freely
Well obviously this one is as true as that yarn about Australians riding to school on their Kangaroos, right?! Guys…? Sorry, but this is one of the stupider myths about Africa!
Animals like to stick to their own patch, not those that humans occupy (not to mention that many have been driven from populated areas by poaching and urban sprawl!). You’ll rarely see a large or dangerous animal in cities or towns, other than a fellow human.
There is one little pest you do need to be careful of though: Baboons and monkeys. They tend to lurk pretty close to cities and towns and are partial to a cheeky food grab from your backpack.
#6 Africa is technologically backwards
Come on guys, you didn’t expect Africa to still be on dial up did you? Most countries in Africa have access to 4G and wi-fi, especially in the south. Almost everyone we met had mobile phones, including the Maasai warriors of Kenya and Tanzania (crazy, we know)!
Across the continent, African banks have created innovative mobile-friendly banking systems that have revolutionised small business in rural areas, and many farmers are empowered with vital information for their harvest each season via mobile apps.
Africa is also at the forefront of solar technology, with Morocco building the world's largest solar power plant. From our experience, Africans are the most capable self-taught engineers and problem solvers, and if you don’t believe us, read ‘The Man Who Harnessed The Wind’.
#7 Africa is poor
Yes, poverty is a problem in Africa and there’s certainly no sugar coating that. Wherever you go, you’ll be subjected to it in one way or another.
However, not all Africans are poor, just as not all African nations are poor. South Africa ranks 30th in the world for GDP; but the issues at play are more about the equal distribution of wealth.
Also, it’s important to note that many African people are far from poor when it comes to family, community or a general zest for life. The continents people are resourceful, creative, and entrepreneurial, and some of the less fortunate people we’ve met were also the most friendly and hospitable. Legends.
#8 It’s hot all the time in Africa
This one time, in Africa, we got caught in a blizzard. Sure, it was at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro but it goes to show that Africa has very dramatic climates. There’s even ski fields in Lesotho.
Both northern and southern Africa experience cold winters with frost, while tropical areas through central Africa can have monsoon like conditions for periods of time.
There's no need to worry if you're travelling in peak season, as the weather during this time is perfect, with warm days and cool nights (pack a warm jacket for those chilly evenings though!).
#9 There’s nothing to see apart from animals
Really? There's a lot wrong with this misconception of Africa.
Let’s start with Cape Town, which on top of having the most incredible natural beauty of any city we’ve seen, has a thriving hipster and art scene to match any city in the world (looking at you, Berlin). Then there’s the rich colonial history throughout the continent, including historical cities including Maputo and Stone Town.
What about the pyramids of Egypt? Great Zimbabwe? Lalibela in Ethiopia, Timbuktu in Mali (yes, Timbuktu exists in real life), the Fes medina... Africa is the cradle of modern man after all, and has a huge array of historical sights. Oh, there’s also the rock art from the early San bushmen of southern Africa, dating back over 20,000.
Africa is so much more than animals, believe us!
#10 Africa needs our help
Thanks to the media, and well-meaning (but damaging) charity adverts that show sad, malnourished children with begging eyes, there’s still a perception in the west that Africa is poor, helpless, and in need of our superior help.
While it’s great to want to positively impact the world, sometimes this view that we have to go there and ‘fix’ Africa by doing charity work actually ends up perpetuating the cycle (seriously, check out white saviour barbie on insta for the best take on this!).
If you really want to help, buy a ticket and visit. Spend your money in locally run guesthouses, order from cafes, travel with taxi drivers, buy stall-holders and shop owners. Get to know the locals, break down those barriers, try to understand each other - you might learn a thing or two as well!
Any other myths about Africa that you've heard? Let us know and we'll aim to debunk them!
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This post originally appeared on the Intrepid Travel blog.