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COMMENT: 5 blunders about ‘the country’ called Africa

This week the world celebrates Africa Day. With more than one billion people living in 30 million km² it’s not an easy place to sum up.

It doesn’t stop people, though. You can’t open a travel magazine or scroll through your Facebook feed without hitting a generalisation about the continent.

Here at Africa Check, we spend our days busting myths and misconceptions about Africa and the people who live on the continent. These are our top five blunders about the country some call Africa.

1. Kanye tweets and Africa weeps

Africa is not a country - despite what US rapper Kanye West tweets. But how many countries are there in Africa? That question is a little trickier than you’d think.

There are 55 states that are internationally recognised and members of either the African Union (AU) or the United Nations (UN) or both.

Fifty-three of these belong to both the AU and UN lists. Morocco is not part of the AU but is a member of the UN. The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) is part of the AU.

Got it? Good.

READ: How many countries in Africa? How hard can the question be?

2. Teenage pregnancy on the rise in South Africa

African teenagers are falling pregnant at an increasing rate, according to a headline.

Did the article mention statistics from a number of  African countries in reaching this conclusion? No. Did it compare statistics over time? Nope.

All it did was cite a 2013 statistic from South Africa.

The region has the highest rate of teen births in the world and the data varies between countries. But the most recent data actually shows that there has been a decline in the number of teenage pregnancies in sub-Saharan Africa between 1990-1995 and 2010-2015.

READ: No evidence that teen pregnancies in Africa are rising as BBC headline said

3. The ‘dark continent’ becomes the ‘drunk continent’

“Africa has a drinking problem,” a Time magazine article declared in 2013. It’s a snappy line, sure.

But is there research to support the claim?

It turns out that when Time magazine said “Africa” they were referring to only two countries: Kenya and South Africa.

So did these countries rank high for alcohol consumption compared to other countries? Not really.

Drinking patterns vary greatly both within and across Africa’s 55 countries. Some African countries have high levels of drinking and binge drinking. In others, people drink very little and there are a high number of abstainers. It’s hard to sum up that complexity in a headline.

In 2011 Kenya was ranked 118th and South Africa ranked 55th by the World Health Organisation. The heaviest drinking nation was Moldova.

The statement “Africa has a drinking problem” reveals less about Africa’s drinking habits than it does about Time’s perception of the continent.

READ: Is Africa the drunk continent? How Time Magazine ignored the data

4. Don’t drink the water!

If you’re speaking in stereotypes, it’s not just crime and disease that tourists need to worry about when visiting Africa.

According to an infographic published by the UK’s Mail Online, you can add our tap water to the list. It’s apparently “risky business” to drink the water as it’s “unsafe for human consumption”.

Tap water drinking Africans will know this claim is false. Africa Check staff were happy to prove the point by downing a glass of Johannesburg’s finest.

Tap water quality varies greatly in Africa’s 55 states, though.

In 2012, 98.3% of South Africa's municipalities complied with water safety standards. Studies conducted between 2004 and 2005 found that found that over 70% of piped water samples in Nigeria and Ethiopia met international guidelines.

Oh and Daily Mail? It’s also “risky business” to make generalisations when you haven’t checked the data.

READ: No, not all tap water in Africa is ‘unsafe for human consumption’

5. Africa is home to the world’s ‘rape capital’

Sixteen years ago South Africa was the “reputed rape capital of the world” according to international news organisation Christian Science Monitor. CNN passed on the title to Eastern Congo in 2011. In 2015 violence against women in the South Kivu province of Congo “earned the region the title 'rape capital of the world'” by the UK Guardian.

And most recently, the title returned to South Africa when Afrikaans author and commentator Dan Roodt branded the country the “undisputed rape capital of the world”.Dan Roodt tweet

In most cases, the term is used to describe a country where there is a high level of sexual violence. But the nature of rape statistics means that any ranking system is flawed.

Different legal definitions, recording methods, reporting rates and missing data means that it is impossible to accurately compare levels of rape around the world.

READ: Why it is wrong to call S. Africa or any country the ‘rape capital of the world

Have a stereotype to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @AfricaCheck.

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