3. 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. More on vaccinations you need when traveling to Africa .
4. 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.
7. 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 shukas texting one another current cattle prices and health care workers sharing valuable immunization data with one another.
9. Africa Needs Aid (and Celebrities) to Help it "Develop"
It's questionable how much good aid money has done for African countries, and it's not just because it has ended up in the wrong hands. Mainly it's because projects are often ill-defined, ill-conceived and ignore any input from the people they aim to "help". A lot of aid, while given in the right spirit, has actually been somewhat detrimental to African development. For a start, aid money has subsidized some very corrupt governments and crippled efforts to increase government transparency. Real "fair trade" agreements would help a lot more than aid. Steady employment, a stable economy and access to credit would also benefit most people looking to better their lives. Certainly celebrity visits are not the answer. We'd find it a bit odd if a Nigerian superstar came over to Chicago and started handing out money to those on welfare. We all know that it would not make the problem simply go away -- life is a bit too complicated for easy solutions. There are many unsung local heroes making a difference in communities all over Africa. So it's also unfair to think that the poor in Africa are simply sitting around waiting for handouts. Having said all this, there are some charities that truly make a difference, but it would be nice to see them based in Africa and not in New York or Silicon Valley.
10. Africans All Have Rhythm
Ok, this one might have some merit. The amount of times I have been out-danced by toddlers and seventy year old grandmas in various African locations makes it hard for me to dispel this myth. In the past four decades I have been to dive bars, clubs and festivals throughout the continent and have observed foreigners trying their best to keep up with the locals, to no avail. Just recently I was at an outdoor nightclub in Kumasi. It was a sweltering hot night, people were dancing, my mouth was agape at their style and moves. Up pops a British backpacker and begins to gyrate rather awkwardly. I turned around and found a sea of smiles in the darkness. Our Ghanaian friends were laughing so much they actually fell to the ground. "What is the problem with you white people? Why can't you dance?". I mumbled something incoherent about Westerners not being civilized enough to have music, song and dance surround us from the cradle to the grave... Do check out some of Africa's music festivals and see if I'm right about this.
Africason is a Musician/independent recording artiste and a die-hard believer in Africa.
Find my songs on iTunes, artiste name: Africason