Top five misconceptions about Africa

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From dictators to poverty - here is just some of what people get wrong about Africa.

1. Africa is poor

Some African countries remain very poor, with per-capita incomes of a mere few hundred dollars. But the average African annual income – US$1,720 in 2014 – is about $200 more than India’s.

2. Africa is an aid destination

It’s actually more of a business destination. Foreign aid may have risen rapidly since the millennium to $57.1 billion, but foreign investment has risen faster, hitting $87bn in 2014.

3. OK, but aid can only help, surely?

Not always. Even the best aid suffers from a paradox: that by helping others, you harm their ability to look after themselves. And some aid can do a lot worse. The first chapter of The Rift, for example, details how most of the world’s famine relief groups were complicit, albeit reluctantly, in causing a famine in Somalia in 2011, which killed 250,000 people. The agencies buckled to pressure from their biggest donor, the US, which was trying to starve out an Islamist group, Al Shabab.

4. China is taking over Africa

China has been Africa’s largest trade partner since their two-way trade topped $107 billion in 2008. But the biggest investor in Africa, as measured by holdings, remains France ($58 billion), then the US, Britain, Malaysia, South Africa and, in sixth place, China ($16 billion). The bigger point is that ideas of anyone taking over of Africa betray a fundamental misunderstanding. The new, assertive Africa draws suitors, not conquerors.

5. Africa is still full of warmongering dictators

The years immediately after independence in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were a huge disappointment. Rather than ushering in a new era of freedom, many of Africa’s liberators mimicked their former colonial rulers, repressing their people and stealing their countries’ wealth. Some old-style autocrats remain, notably Robert Mugabe, 91, who rigged an election in Zimbabwe in 2013 to remain in power. But democracies are more common. This year Africa’s biggest democracy, Nigeria, ruled by military dictators for decades, held a free election in which the incumbent was peacefully voted out. As a region, the 49 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa are now judged more free than the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia.