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The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.

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You have watched ‘Blood Diamond ‘or ‘The Constant Gardener,’ you view Africa as a place full of violence, corrupt governments, and diseases. Primitive tribesmen, people living in mud huts, wild animals roaming about freely…No other continent is burdened with as many clichés and misconceptions as Africa. In spite of increased travel to the continent and easy access to information via the internet, stereotypes and myths about Africa persist. I have made several trips to the continent, the latest one being to Kenya and this is what I want to correct: I was at the ATA’s  African Trade Congress at Nairobi recently and at several sessions speakers made a valid point about how Africa is often a victim of negative perception. How many people know that it’s home to 7 of the fastest growing economies in the world? Or that 39% of the African population live in urban areas, and this is rapidly increasing? Or that Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire produce 57% of the world’s cocoa? Or that 13% of the world’s hydroelectric power potential lies in the Congo River?

MYTHS

Africa is really one country.

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This is a remarkably common misconception, in part because Africa is often spoken of as a single place. Africa is in fact a continent, the second largest on the planet after Asia-It’s home to 54 independent countries that all belong to the African Union.  Each has a constitution, government as well as its own language and dialects, diverse landscapes from mountains to beaches, grasslands to river deltas, all home to exotic animal habitats. Indeed, it’s the sheer size of the continent that’s hard for many people to wrap their head around.

Africa is Technologically Backward

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The idea that technical innovation is lacking in Africa is ludicrous to anyone who has spent a little time there. What some African nations lack is access to education and resources, innovation is in plentiful supply. If you visit any country in Africa, you can’t help but notice that everyone has a cell phone. Cell phones are in fact being used in hugely innovative ways throughout Africa.  Health-care workers use cell phones to track and monitor pregnant women in rural Rwanda;  Kenya has established a highly effective mobile banking system, called M-Pesa opening up rural areas to credit in ways that has revolutionized small businesses. Traditional Maasai in their bright red shukas are quite often on their mobiles texting current cattle prices and health care workers sharing valuable immunization data with one another.

Africa has a lot of violent crime and is very dangerous.

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Headlines about revolutions, bombings, child soldiers, robberies in Nairobi and piracy off the coast of Somalia are what many people think of when Africa is mentioned. Africa is now less dangerous than Central and South America, say many people. “Most thefts in Africa are directly tied to socio-economic issues and are opportunistic. A great tip is to use common sense and have confidence in an experienced tour operator to put together a customized itinerary.” You don’t get to hear enough about the good things that happen on the continent. Have you heard that female footballers are tackling taboos in Sudan or about the zillion entrepreneurs in the continent changing lives for the better? 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.  Violent crime against tourists in all African countries is quite rare; Of course you apply common sense and don’t want to go to Cairo during an uprising or to certain parts of Johannesburg after dark! The local people I’ve met over the years in Africa, have been some of the kindest, friendliest and most respectful I’ve ever come across. In fact I even did a township tour in Harare and felt safe at all times.

Africa has major problems with diseases.

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Of course there are diseases in the continent .It’s more a function of lack of access to things like vaccinations, basic health care, and health education. It’s very easy to avoid a dread disease by simply getting vaccinated and/or taking preventative measures. Ebola has been significantly curbed in Africa in the past year and the disease is generally confined to three countries in Western Africa — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — which are not frequent tourist destinations. Geography can help define the dangers. In the case of Ebola, “consider that Europe and even South America were closer to the epicenter of the outbreak than the two major tourist regions, East Africa and Southern Africa, which had no incidents of Ebola,” But many people cancelled trips even to South Africa! As a traveler, you need to make an informed decision based on geography, not on perception.”While HIV/AIDS is still prevalent in southern Africa, new infections are declining as the number of people receiving treatment grows. Most visitors going on safari are given a list of suggested or required medications, such as anti-malarial drugs.

Africa is all desert or rainforest   

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If you watch some Nat Geo programs, you are bound to see the wide open plains of Africa or the lush, rich rainforests that can be found there. While there is an abundance of beautiful natural landscapes to be found in Africa, there is a lot more to it than that. During a visit to almost any region of Africa, you will encounter mountains, open plains, savannah grasslands, rainforests and deserts – as well as a diverse variety of wildlife and people who call these different places their home.

Africa is all about wildlife

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While Africa does indeed have a truly incredible array of wildlife, this doesn’t mean that you will run the risk of running into a herd of wildebeest or a pride of lions whenever you walk outside your hotel. Wild animals are kept in controlled areas such as National Parks or Conservancies, which are managed by wildlife officials and provide perfect destinations for tourists to go on game drives during the day or night. A city in Africa is very similar to a city in the USA or Europe.  Also don’t head directly to a game park, bypassing all the other things that define Africa:  modern cities,  traditional villages,  music and dance, UNESCO sites, historical sites and majestic mountains. To pigeonhole Africa as “that continent with safaris” ignores the complexity and diversity of a continent.

Africa is poor

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47% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa do live on less than $1.25 a day..But did you know South Africa has a gross domestic product by purchasing power parity of around US$660 billion? African countries aren’t inherently poor, and many are rich in natural resources. Overall, the continent holds a third of the planet’s accessible mineral reserves. Two thirds of the world’s diamonds and a tenth of the global oil supply come from Africa. Nigeria’s main export is petroleum, while South Africa is the world’s largest producer of platinum. Yet natural resources aren’t fueling all of the continent’s current economic growth. Even with a downturn in global commodity prices in recent months, sub-Saharan Africa is still expected to see an average of 4.7 percent GDP growth in 2015, according to the World Bank.

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While these misconceptions may seem rather entertaining, there is one thing that can certainly be said of Africa that rings true time and time again: any visit to an African country will be quite unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Culturally rich and infinitely satisfying. Do remember that most of this continent has been independent for a mere forty to forty-five years, and every country endured colonialism for many decades longer than it’s been independent! The UN estimates that by 2050 almost one in three children under the age of 18 will be African…that is a HUGE portion of our future! We should begin to recognize this continent and its people with the potential they are capable of.

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