Africa is a homogenous continent: It is very common for people to think of Africa as a homogenous continent, and even to refer to Africa as a country. Africa is not a country, but is rather a continent consisting of numerous countries and diverse populations. Africa is, in fact, the second largest continent on earth next to Asia; it contains the most countries of any continent, and is 4 times larger than the United States. There are 53 African countries with an estimated population of more than 933,000,000 people . There are both important diversities and fundamental cultural similarities across Africa, as across any continent.
Africa is a poor continent: Africa is actually one the wealthiest continents in the world in terms of natural resources. Many countries in Africa contain rich reserves of valuable minerals like coltan, diamonds, gold, and bauxite, as well as other valuable commodities like oil, gas, and timber. With such an abundance of resources, the people of Africa should be among the richest in the world. While there are many wealthy people living on the African continent, this wealth has not historically translated into better living conditions for the average African person. There are numerous reasons for this including colonization, corruption, armed conflict or rebellion, as well as the policies of international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Africans are tribal: The word “tribe” is actually a European word, not an African one. While Europeans have historically used the word “tribe” to refer to Africans, it is not a term that Africans have used historically to refer to themselves. Essentially, people who consider themselves to be outside of the categorization of a tribe use the term “tribe” to identify an “ethnic group”. It is not uncommon for North Americans to think of Africans as tribes, but to think about Canadians, Mexicans, or French as “ethnic groups” or “countries.”
Many people living in the West associate the word “tribe” with negative concepts like social backwardness, and unsophisticated technology, and often use the word to refer to Africans because they mistakenly believe these are somehow African characteristics. Since Europeans commonly used the term “tribe” during the colonial period, many Africans have internalized it and continue to use the word.
Famine is the only cause of poverty on the African continent: The roots of poverty in Africa are incredibly complex and can not be blamed on any one particular cause such as famine. While famine certainly poses many challenges, in order to truly understand the roots of poverty on the African continent, one has to understand the history and impact of colonization in Africa, the exploitation and exportation of Africa’s natural resources, the intention of governments and the political climate, corruption, the global arms trade, war, the policies of international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, unfair trading policies, as well as the impacts of the spread of diseases like malaria, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS. Poverty is a complex issue and cannot be attributed to one root cause. It is important to understand the historical, political, economic, geographic and social contexts that contribute to poverty.
All Africans look the same and share the same ancestral background: People living in Africa have numerous different skin colours and physical characteristics. Most African cultures distinguish between the different skin tones and physical characteristics, and have words to describe different shades of skin colour and hair types. As is the case in western societies, prejudices based upon these observed differences often exist in African societies as well.
In addition to physical differences, the people of Africa have diverse histories of origin. While there are “indigenous” Africans whose ancestors remained on the continent, there are also African immigrants from all parts of the world. Some immigrants to Africa are ancient immigrants like Persians and Arabs among the Swahili of East Africa, Arabs in North Africa, or Indonesians among the Malagasy of Madagascar. Most immigrants to Africa arrived during the last several hundred years, or even in the last couple of decades. Newer immigrant Africans come mainly from countries in Europe like France, England, Portugal, and Holland, as well as from countries in Asia like India, China, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
People living in Africa speak “African”: People living in Africa do not speak a language called “African.” In fact, it is estimated that there are well over a thousand languages spoken in Africa organized into four main language families.
- The Afro-Asiatic language family contains about 240 languages spoken by over 285 million people throughout North Africa, East Africa, the Sahel, and Southwest Asia.
- The Nilo-Saharan language family consists of more than a hundred languages and is spoken by 30 million people. Nilo Saharan languages are mainly spoken in Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and northern Tanzania
- The Niger-Congo language family is one of the largest language families in the world in terms of different languages, and it covers most of Sub-Saharan Africa.
- The Koisan languages consist of about 50 different languages, and are spoken in Southern Africa by about 120,000 people. Many of these languages are endangered.
Nearly all countries in Africa have adopted official languages that originated outside Africa and spread through colonialism or the movement of people. In many countries, English and French are used to communicate in the public spheres, which included places like government, education, and the media. Arabic, Portuguese, Afrikaans and Malagasy are other examples of originally non-African languages that are used by millions of Africans today, both in the public (government, school) and private (home) spheres.
Music in Africa has nothing in common with music we listen to in North America: Many of the popular styles of music in Canada like rap, blues, jazz, reggae, and rock and roll have their roots in the musical rhythms of Sub-Sahara and West Africa, and were brought to North America through the African Atlantic slave trade. Modern music on the continent includes highly complex choral singing of southern Africa and dance rhythms of Soukous, dominated by the music of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Listen to this:
- Recently in South Africa, a form of music related to house music known as Kwaito has developed.
- In the 21st century, African hip-hop has emerged as a popular musical style, especially hip hop originating in Senegal which blends in traditional mbalax rhythms.
Roots World: Listening to the Planet
Music for the Mind
People living in Africa are not educated: Although access to education is often limited in numerous countries in Africa due to the cost of school fees, uniforms, and school supplies, there are countless numbers of highly educated people living in Africa. In fact, according to the 2000 US census, immigrants born in Africa have the highest level of educational attainment in America when compared to other immigrant groups. It is also true however, that educated African immigrants often have a difficult time finding work in their field after immigrating to western countries due to language barriers, certification criteria, and racism.
Think about this:
• 49% of African immigrants to the United States age 25 years and older possess a BA or higher compared with nearly 33% of Europeans, 45% of Asians, 6% of Central Americans, and 25% of South Americans.
• The United Nations Development Program estimates that since 1990 Africa has been losing 20,000 professionals every year. This adds up to 340,000 people since 1990.
Most people living in Africa do not have access to communications technology: Electronic communication is not a new phenomenon in Africa. Various forms of sophisticated communications technology like radio, television, telephone, and Internet are available in Africa today. In fact, many telephone systems newly installed in African cities take advantage of communications technologies that are more advanced than those available to the average telephone customer in North America.
While television and radio are the most widely used methods of communication technology in Africa, the Internet is becoming increasingly available and utilized on the continent. It is an astounding fact that while the Internet barely existed in Africa even five years ago, today 44 of the 54 countries in Africa have some form of Internet access at least in their capital cities.
Although Internet access in Africa is rapidly increasing, the cost of connection is still higher than in other regions of the world, rendering Internet use out of reach for many people. In addition to the costs involved, insufficient infrastructure and regulatory barriers also impede electronic communications.
Infrastructural challenges include scarce and/or poor quality telephone lines, unreliable power supplies, outdated equipment, and a lack of knowledge and training.
Regulatory barriers include government monopolies on telecommunications, high access rates for telephone service, and legal obstacles to foreign investment.
Africa is mostly jungle and desert: The physical geography of Africa is as diverse as the people who live there. Africa does contain the largest stretch of equatorial forest and the largest desert in the world; however, like any other continent, Africa is a continent of astounding ecological and geographic diversity.
Africa’s geography includes high snowy mountains, rich tropical forest, open grassland, mixed savanna (grasslands and trees), pine forests, and temperate climates. Think of any climate in the world (except Antarctica), and you can find it somewhere in Africa.
Facts about Africa’s geography:
- Highest and Lowest Points: The tallest point in Africa is Mt. Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania (eastern Africa). Mt. Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet (5895 meters) tall.
- The lowest point in Africa is Lake Assal, in Djibouti (in eastern Africa near the Horn of Africa); it is 512 feet (156 meters) below sea level.
- Lakes: Africa's largest lake is Lake Victoria; it covers 26,836 square miles (69,500 square kilometers). Other large lakes in Africa are Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi, and Lake Chad.
- Rivers: The longest river in Africa is the Nile River; it is 4,241 miles (6825 kilometers) long. Other long rivers in Africa include the Congo River, the Niger River and the Zambezi River.
- Deserts: Africa has many vast deserts, including the largest hot desert in the world, the Sahara. The Sahara Desert is located in northern Africa and covers 3,500,000 square miles (9,065,000 square kilometers). The Kalahari, in southern Africa, is another large desert.
- Islands: The biggest island off Africa is Madagascar, which is near the coast of southeast Africa. Madagascar covers 226,658 square miles (587,000 square kilometers). Other islands include the Seychelles (a chain of islands north of Madagascar), the Comoros (another chain of islands north of Madagascar), the Canary Islands (a chain of islands off the northwest coast), the Madeira Islands (another chain of islands off the northwest coast), the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of western Africa), Equatorial Guinea (off the coast of Cameroon), and Sao Tome (southwest of Equatorial Guinea).