Is African Time African?

Africans are greatly and widely known as terrible time keepers. Yes, indeed they are but mainly to the westerners(whites). Before the coming of the whites, Africans didn’t have watches, hence praticed emotional time management with the help of  the sun and moon, so the whites came with watches, hence mechanical time management and ever since, they have tried to impose that on us, only that we are hardcore humans(which is good).
Lack of punctuality or a lax attitude about time in Africa is probably one of the reasons as to why we are still called ‘backward’. African cultures are often described as polychronic, which means people tend to manage more than one thing at a time rathee than in a strict sequence. This is true, because We Africans like to accomplish alot in a short period of time or rather, we like to get *done*.

Better three hours soon than a minute late- Shakespeare. Well, thats the sense of the westerners.
Yesturday, a friend of mine missed a flight because he had a lunch date and his date arrived late(on African time), he is here looking at me as though its me that caused him to be late..smh..(I love slang).
In october 2007, President Laurent Gbagbo launched a campaign against African time with a event called “punctuality night” held in Abidjan to recognise business people and government workersfor regularly being on time. This recieved international media attention. The question is, are Africans willing to make time management an award winning something? I guess not.
With slogans such as ‘time is money,’ Africans are expected to be poor(are we?).

Watch the award-winning short film Binta and the Great Idea. The protagonist of the film, a fisherman in a small village in Senegal, can’t understand the new ideas brought back from Europe by his friend; these are symbolized by a Swiss wristwatch, which rings at various times to the delight of the friend, but for no apparent reason. The fisherman is shown making his way through the various ranks of officials with his idea, which in the end is a sharp criticism of Western culture’s obsession with efficiency and progress. will Africans ever be good time managers?

As I was passing through BBC Africa live programme,  I came across people’s views on African time management. I bring forward a few of those views…

We have our own African time, quite different from the Western time. We say I will l see you around 1pm. It means not precisely 1pm like the West, it could be from 1pm to 2pm.
George Onmonya Daniel, Nigeria

Africans do not wait for time, rather, time waits for Africans. 
Agyenim Boateng
Yes, Africans are capable of keeping time. A “red hot stove” approach is needed to arrest this bad attitude. Africans in the Diaspora learn to keep the time. We show up at work or appointments on time, because there is a price to pay for tardiness. Africans have a saying, “Africans do not wait for time, rather, time waits for Africans”. Time is money, and we are paying a heavy price for our tardiness.
Agyenim Boateng, US/Ghana

Africans keep time but in their own way which happens to be different from the developed world. Better late than never! This has healed Africans of stress and living a timed life.
Noble Banadda, Leuven, Belgium
Unless there is a strong drive for time management, everything in Africa will always be behind schedule. 
Elias Mutungi
Well, time management is one of Africa’s incurable diseases. In Africa time is taken for granted as if it is a renewable resource, and we “mismanage” time as we do to other resources. In Africa we tend to value other things like our relations more than time. Unless there is a strong drive for time management, everything in Africa will always be behind schedule.
Elias Mutungi, Uganda/USA

It is high time Africans realize that keeping time does not only show respect but it also tells a lot about a person’s integrity.
Bade Iriabho, Nigeria

As a Euro-American woman who recently trekked The Gambia, I constantly asked my local guide how long it would take to travel between villages. In return, I received a puzzled look. While waiting for bush-taxis to fill up and eventually depart, I realized that most Gambians figure out time without a watch, unlike me. They take into account sunrises, sundowns, electricity cut-offs, and prayer times. Everything else is not so much a matter of time, rather, a matter of dreaming up a better way of life.
Mia Venster, USA

I do agree that there are some Africans who are poor time keepers although I must add that there are also quite a number of Africans who are always punctual. Unpunctuality can sometimes be attributed to inefficiency and a “don’t care” attitude while in other cases factors beyond an individual’s control can result in lateness. Unreliable public service vehicles, traffic jams and poor roads which are the norm in many African countries are just but some of the factors that could lead to one arriving late for an appointment.
Mary Wanjiku, Kenyan in Germany

I was in a small town in the Soroti district, Uganda, trying to find transport to another village a few hours away. Having been told that a certain truck would be ready to go soon, we stopped by for a cup of tea. After a few hours, it became clear, that the truck was still in the process of being loaded with bananas. By the evening, the same driver informed us that we would have to wait until the next morning. We waited until about 2pm that day, the small open-back truck drove off, packed with 30 people sitting on bananas. I think that this happens because of a shortage of resources. In the West ,we have most of these things sorted out, but in Africa, we sometimes expect people to make a miracle with the little they have!
Antony Elliott, Bournemouth, England

Africans do not keep time because of our cultural background that is quite different to the European one. We do not have fixed working hours like 8am to 5pm. And an African would feel important if you would still be there waiting for him two hours after the agreed time.
Mike, Kenya

The problem in Africa is that people are not paid by the hour and therefore they have no respect for time. 
Kofi Nyandeh
You are absolutely right. The problem in Africa is that people are not paid by the hour and therefore they have no respect for time.

Come on now, how can one ask if “poor time keeping is Africa’s worst enemy?” My time in various East African countries taught me the wonders of humans being more concerned about people than the watch. Sometimes, we in the West tend to be more time-centric than people-centred. In the end, which one is really more important?
Philip Bert, USA

Let the time change the time-keeping attitude of Africans.
Sale Man, Canada

Yes, we Africans definitely know what it means to keep time. The question is, whose time are we keeping to? In Ghana (and indeed most other African nations), time translates thus: For starters add two hours to the start time of the celebration. Then with each decade of seniority of the celebrant, add one additional hour.” This will yield the actual start time, also referred to as GMT, or “Ghana Mean Time”. We refuse to keep to anyone else’s time – so take it, or leave it.
Patrick, Ghanaian living in UK

The only place an African, espercially Ghanaians, are not late is their workplace where one must punch or swipe his or her time card.
George, canada

Why should people who have been told by their colonizers that they have no history learn to keep time? Making history and keeping time go together.
Joel Omoding, Kenya

Africans can keep time but then the attitude is different. Try keeping time on a hot day with temperatures of 40 degrees, no transport, bad roads, power failure and corruption. The African also has an almost fatalistic ideology that ‘what will be will be’.
Ike Akunyili, Nigeria

I think that the very idea that Africans cannot keep time is racist to the extreme.
Chima Okezue, UK

I may be guilty of committing an offence but not killing time. Some of us who are serious, keep our time.
Kwabena Amo-Dwobeng, Canada

We Africans exist in time, not for time. 
We Africans exist in time, not for time. Our life is not defined by seconds, minutes and hours like machines or robots. Our values are different from the so-called “developed” world. Time isn’t money for us. If a friend turns up late for a date, most likely we won’t be on time either, so we smile and make the best of the situation. What we don’t understand is why other people, with different values and lifestyles, try to impose their views and call “problems” what we see as natural and a part of us.
Ismelalme, Ethiopia

Yes, I agree with the views that Africans are not good at time-keeping. In Ethiopia there is a saying “Yehabesh ketero” which means “Ethiopian appointment”. This means that if you are supposed to arrive at 1pm, it’s OK to arrive at 2 or 3pm. The current situation is that nobody cares about keeping someone waiting for an hour or two.
Joe, Ethiopia

My old finance lecturer, a Tanzanian with a wicked sense of humour, once told us this joke in class. “When God made man,” he said, “He gave white man the watch, but he gave black man time!”
Nick, South Africa

You learn very quickly to adapt to this way of life when you are living and working on the continent of Africa. You become accustomed to setting meeting

Can Africa keep time? Absolutely — when it matters to them. Men and women wake up at cockcrow to go to the fields, to graze their cattle etc. This is classical time keeping. But there are certain occasions amongst some African tribes when punctuality is ridiculed or condemned. Among the Kakwa in Northern Uganda one has to be late for a feast to show that you are a dignified person. Being punctual for feasts is associated with impatience. It is criminal to arrive early for funerals.

I am extremely obsessed with time keeping, and there are many times when I fall out with my wife to whom time is a period and not a point. But to many Africans keeping people waiting is power and gives them the sense of being in control. At times I feel that my wife is never ready on time because it makes her feel in control knowing that I will never drive away without her -woman power maybe. One of these days I might just get into the car and leave my wife at home just to remove that sense of being in control.

Timothy Musajjakawa, Ugandan /UK.

What do you think?




  1. I’m British, but I think I’ve always lived on African time! I can’t help it, I always tend to be just a couple of minutes late. Thing is, I get so organised that I think “I just have time to do this before I get to my meeting….” And that’s where it all goes wrong… Unexpected traffic jams etc.
    Socially, I love the flexible African concept of time, but when you’re waiting hours for other people to arrive? I spent my life being told that I should be punctual, and can’t help but feel guilty if I arrive just a few mins late… Even though I know the interesting debate at a meeting only starts when the key people are there.
    In business in Kampala, I meet many Ugandans who are much better timekeepers than me.
    What I can’t bear is the unspoken arrogance of “let him/her wait.” Whether you’re a messenger or a company director, we’re all entitled to respect.
    Stephen Rwangyezi at the Ndere Centre tells the story of the fisherman *who has time” and the watch “that has hours” brilliantly
    Interview with a rebel: Ugandan cultural activist Stephen Rwangyezi

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