Next week more than 250 fact-checkers from around the world will head to Cape Town, South Africa, for the sixth global fact-checking summit, Global Fact 6.
At Africa Check, the continent’s first fact-checking website, we’re used to hearing myths, misconceptions and stereotypes about our home. We’re also pretty good at debunking them.
Let’s set the record straight on a few things before we kick off this year’s summit.
Repeat after me: Africa is not a country!
Despite what Kanye West tweets, Africa is not a country. But how many countries are there in Africa?
There are 55 states that are internationally recognized and members of either the African Union (AU) or the United Nations (UN) or both.
Fifty-four of these belong to both the AU and UN lists. Morocco rejoined the AU in January 2017 after three decades of being shunned by the rest of the family. The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) is part of the AU but is only partially recognized by the United Nations.
It’s not always as bad as you think
“Why are teenage pregnancies rising in Africa?” asked the BCC in 2016. The question left many scratching their heads.
At the time, the best available birth data for the region showed that birth rates had actually been declining since 1990.
The adolescent birth rate in African has headed south from 122 births per 1,000 adolescents between 1990 and 1995 to 98 between 2010 and 2015.
A Sky News report that claimed that “a woman or girl is raped every 26 seconds in South Africa” was also short on facts. It turned out the claim was based on a 17-year-old flawed calculation.
Due to a lack of research, the number of rapes committed each year in South Africa can’t be accurately estimated. But this void mustn’t be filled with recycled and unsubstantiated claims.
In 2015, an Italian politician was voted the winner of Pagella Politica’s “Whopper of the year” for claiming that the violent jihadist group Boko Haram controlled 60% of Nigerian territory, an area twice the size of Italy.
At the time, Boko Haram only controlled about 25 settlements in northeastern Nigeria, which accounts for about 20% of all Nigerian territory.
Bogus stats don’t save lives
The African continent faces serious health challenges. But exaggerated claims about these problems don’t help.
Malaria killed about 403,000 Africans in 2017. These high mortality numbers fuel repeated mistruths about the disease in Africa. Claims that “an African child dies of malaria every minute” (or sometimes every 30 seconds) are published and shared widely.
When Africa Check fact-checked the claim in 2016, we found that the best estimate was that a child in African dies from malaria every one minute and 48 seconds. This is still really bad, but a lot better than what people keep repeating. And we’re crunching the latest data for a new fact-check. Follow @AfricaCheck for updates.
The frighteningly quick spread of diseases in the age of globalization has also contributed to paranoia about traveling to— or from — Africa.
After the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil in 2016, there were a number of media reports suggesting that “African visitors” attending the 2014 football World Cup were to blame.
But each strain of the virus has its own distinct DNA. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Africa Check that testing showed that the virus that broke out in South America did not originate from Africa. It was actually from Asia.
You can drink the tap water in Cape Town
Yes, we have clean water in Africa. This is one of the stickier generalizations about the continent.
This didn’t stop the UK’s Mail Online claiming that tap water in every African country is “unsafe for human consumption”.
Tracking down reliable, comparable data on water quality in Africa is difficult. The quality and safety of tap water within African countries can also vary greatly.
Don’t feed the baboons
Keep in mind that Cape Town is just the tip of a more than 30 million km² (11.5 million square miles) land mass of diverse cultures, music, food and unique experiences.