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6 Common Myths About Africa

Here are some myths outsiders have about Africa which are not true.

1.  Africa is Dangerous and Violent

With wars, revolutions, pirates and child soldiers making the news, it’s really no wonder that the myth about Africa being a dangerous place is a common one. If New York City was judged by reading the New York Post, few tourists would dream of visiting. Of course bad news is news, so you don’t get to hear enough about the good things that happen on the continent. How often do you hear about Botswana orGhana in the news? How often is the middle class in Africa given any air time? Never really. As a visitor to Africa it’s likely you’ll avoid certain countries — no one would suggest you spend a week at the beach in Somalia. There are countries, some cities and borders that are very dangerous, but given the size of the continent, it is not hard to see that there are many perfectly peaceful and safe places to visit. Violent crime against tourists in all African countries is quite rare, and personally I feel a lot safer walking around Accra than Amsterdam. As a visitor you are much more likely to be killed with kindness than anything else.

2. Africa is Poor and Disease Ridden

Poverty is obviously something that will strike you as a visitor to many African countries. But African countries are not all poor. It’s the distribution of wealth that’s the biggest problem. South Africa is an incredibly wealthy country. In fact its GDP outranks that of Belgium and Sweden. It has many natural resources, a good education system, excellent universities, sparkling business districts and very advanced hospitals. Unfortunately much of its population does not get to share the wealth. Did you know that Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria are all richer on paper (as per GDP and PPP) than Denmark and Norway? There are middle class people in every African country commuting to work every day, complaining about taxes and watching their kids play soccer every weekend.
Diseases take millions of lives every year in Africa because the poor lack access to childhood immunization programs and basic health care, not because the continent is infested with scary illnesses. Successful immunization programs have made huge strides in reducing polio and measles in the last decade. AIDS is prevalent in countries like South Africa, but we all know what to do to avoid it. As long as you are up to date on your vaccines as a visitor, you are unlikely to catch anything more tropical than a sunburn.Avoiding malaria is easy when you take prophylactics and have the money to sleep under a mosquito net.

3.  African Politicians Are All Corrupt

Corrupt politicians aren’t exactly unique to Africa, but the continent does seem to have more than its fair share. At least Nelson Mandela showed the world that Africa is capable of producing an honest leader. Some of the political crises in Africa can be blamed on colonial legacy but most of it reflects greed and corruption on the part of incumbent presidents and political parties. 2011 elections in Uganda and Cameroon, left the incumbents securely in place after questionable tactics and ballot counts. But the North Africans have certainly shown the way forward, starting with the Tunisian revolution and (so far) ending with the toppling of Libya’s Gaddafi. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia along with 2 other women received the Nobel Peace Prize. And Zambia had a successful and fair election with a change of ruling party.

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4. Africa is Filled With Dangerous Animals Roaming Freely

It’s true that rhinos graze just a few miles from the center of Nairobi, East Africa’s biggest city. And there are golf courses in South Africa where the water hazards are home to crocodiles. Hyenas still appear in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, so it’s best not to walk around at night. But, for the most part, Africa’s wildlife is basically confined to national parks and reserves, including Nairobi’s rhinos. You are likely to see the odd ostrich and baboon by the side of the road in southern Africa, but elephant,giraffe, lion and buffalo do not roam around towns or in suburbs. There is just too much competition for resources with a rapidly growing population. Keeping what remains of Africa’s wildlife safely in reserves and national parks also helps protect farmers from wildlife destroying crops and eating their cattle. That’s not to say you’ll feel like you are driving around a large zoo when on safari, national parks and protected areas are often larger than many European countries. More about Africa’s wildlife.

5. Africa is Technologically Backward

The idea that technical innovation is lacking in Africa is laughable to anyone who has spent a little time there. In Ghana, I’ve watched entire cars being re-built from scrap by “fitters”, all without an engineering degree. Walk through any school playground in Zambia and you’re bound to see a child play with a home made toy car complete with steering capabilities. What some African nations lack is access to education and resources, innovation is in plentiful supply. Many people responded to the Malawian boy who Harnessed the Wind, but this is actually the type of story that could be told many times over, just check out the Afrigadget blog, or the long list of African inventions gathered by Kumatoo.com. If you visit any country in Africa, you can’t help but notice that everyone is chatting away on their cell phones. Cell phones are in fact being used in hugely innovative ways throughout Africa. Kenya has established a highly effective mobile banking system, opening up rural areas to credit in ways that has revolutionized small businesses. You see traditional Maasai in their bright red shukastexting one another current cattle prices and health care workers sharing valuable immunization data with one another.

6. It’s Always Hot in Africa

If you’ve only visited West Africa, I’d say it would be entirely appropriate to say “it’s always hot in Africa”. But that’s where this myth stops. It snows in Africa, yes it does. Both northern and southern Africa experience cold winters with frequent frost, as well as hot summers. Mountains, plateaus, cold oceans, warm oceans, rainy and dry seasons — all affect weather patterns in individual countries as well. It is fair to say that conversations about the weather in much of Africa tends to focus more on whether its dry or wet, than about the temperature being hot or cold. More about the weather and season in Africa.

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