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Getting to know Africa and its people: Confronting popular stereotypes

Getting to know Africa and its people: Confronting popular stereotypes

by Joseph Mensah

This January, Professor Joseph Mensah presented a lecture at the Scholars’ Hub on Getting to know Africa and its people: Confronting popular stereotypes. In this lecture, Mensah discusses prevailing negative stereotypes about Africa and challenges them by shedding light on the continent's diversity and confronting the dehumanizing effects of these stereotypes.

Mensah addresses the negative portrayal of Africa as the "Dark Continent" or the "Lost Continent" and delves into the continent's geographic complexity, comprising 49 mainland countries and 6 islands, with contested and newly formed nations adding to the complexity. He emphasizes Africa's significant size of Africa, debunking the myth of its smallness by comparing its landmass to that of Greenland, and noting that its current population, which is around 1.4 billion, accounts for a significant portion of the global population.

Mensah’s lecture highlights Africa's diversity in terms of the human development index (HDI), showcasing varying levels of development among countries, from higher HDI in nations like Mauritius to lower HDI in countries like Chad and Niger. He also emphasizes the demographic diversity of populous nations like Nigeria and Ethiopia in contrast with smaller countries like Eswatini and Mauritius.

“The ethnic map of Africa underscores its exceptional ethnic heterogeneity. The population pyramid illustrates Africa's youthful population, with a median age of approximately 19 years, contrasting with the aging populations of advanced societies,” says Mensah. He challenges stereotypes perpetuated through the media and European exploration, colonialism, and the negative connotations associated with the colour black. He urges critical thinking when consuming information about the continent and emphasizes the need to confront stereotypes with awareness, skepticism, and an understanding of Africa's political and developmental complexities.


Joseph Mensah is a first-generation African-Canadian intellectual, born and raised in post-colonial Ghana. His research deals with critical development theory, socio-spatial dialectics, globalization, religious transnationalism, cultural identity, race, space and employment. His most recent project “To stay or not to stay: The geographies of immigrant integration, transnationalism, and return intentions among African immigrants in Canada” seeks to deepen knowledge on how varying conditions in the country of origin and place of residence affect the return intentions of immigrants. His latest co-authored book on Boomerang Ethics: How Racism Affects Us All (2017) looks at the hidden impacts of racism on all members of society. He is also the author of Black Canadians: History, Experience, Social Conditions (2010).