Monday, March 28, 2011

African Time Be Dammed

Many years back (when I was a boy), a group of friends sat around the dinner table discussing future careers as we prepared for our final exam paper in high school. We then figured that instead of waiting for years going through college then looking for work, we could start making some money immediately by registering a company and starting some business. We named the company M-10, because we were 10 kids from Maseno School. All this over dinner, and before dinner was over, we agreed on a date, place and time to meet once done with school and back in the city. This was interesting because those many years back, we had no mobile phones and none had heard the term email. Some of us had fixed land line phones in our homes but we would generally be incommunicado for the next few weeks until the rendezvous date. Surprisingly, all 10 of us made it to the rendezvous (we eventually registered the company and made some money till college tore us apart).

But why do I write about this incident? Because today I find it incredulous that years ago we honored such meetings so faithfully without the use of the sophisticated gadgets that we now have but today we cannot keep simple appointments. A meeting scheduled for noon will start two hours late after a series of text messages indicating people are held up somewhere, something urgent came up etc. notwithstanding that some arrived on time for the said meeting. I am not even talking about school boy rendezvous here, I am talking about professionals attending official functions, husbands meeting their wives for lunch etc. The infuriating part is that we have so internalized this that we casually refer to it as African Time, without batting an eyelid.


Recently during an event that my organization had organized, I called one of the high profile speakers to find out where he was because we were ready to kick off(actually were about 15 minutes late). He casually replied that he was about 1 hour away and did not think he would make it in time for the event. And this is from someone who has made a career pointing out the inefficiency of our governments.

If I remember correctly, there is a quote by Shakespeare that goes something like "I wasted time, and now time doth waste me..." Enough of the rant.



Keep time

22 comments:

  1. You took the words right out of my mouth (keyboard!). I think being late for something you have committed yourself to is one of the greatest displays of contempt and disrespect. Think about it, how many of us would be late for an appointment at the office of the President? Very few, but we will keep our barber waiting! Why? We respect the President more than the barber.

    Excellent article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think africans hide there incompetence behind such phrases "African time" "African way" I recently attended a work function it being one of the biggest Media companies in SA the CEO was clear about the perception by foreign business partners that business in Africa is done the "African way" thus common business practices get discarded,I believe he was right in emphasizing that this mentality has spelt the death of many promising enterprises,Most africans when in a position of power walk around with this air of importance as you comments suggest if I am the main speaker then I should be fashionably late in order to make a grand entrance

    ReplyDelete
  3. well said. I hate being kept waiting or keeping anyone waiting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I remember going to a God forsaken village for a function. There the time schedule is meant to be deffered for 3 hours

    I thnk it's the westerners who taught us the word punctuality.
    Let's believe it's all so natural and being late is not at allinefficiency

    ReplyDelete
  5. When I lived in Cape Town all I ever heard was "it's the African way" - I must admit coming from Hong Kong it infuriated me no end. In Hong Kong all appointments were kept and nobody would have even considered arriving fashionably late. Sometimes I am delayed by traffic and will phone ahead to say that but really it is bad manners on my part not to have started out earlier!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love this song by some Kenyan artiste " An African timer...you never keep time, you are just an african timer, unapenda kuchelewa ....♪" on and on it goes about how several characters in the song make this guy miserable coz they are African timers.... It's hilarious.

    Phones have made matters worse! Those days of landlines, i think it was riskier for one to be late esp if you are meeting with someone to go somewhere....they might assume you ain't coming n just leave :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Danzo, I agree with you it is partly about disrespect and contempt, but I also think it is about carelessness, laziness and not being serious.

    Erico, you are right, the African way thing is something we need to deal with

    Jane.Healy - I agree with you on the bad manners

    ReplyDelete
  8. Jon, I have no problem when I go to the village and find life moving at a different pace. My main gripe is with the city 'professionals'!

    mrsmwiti - I am yet to hear that song, I should look for it. Do you know the artist's name?

    ReplyDelete
  9. African time?
    Here we call it Shropshire time.
    In this rural community in the UK time is an elastic concept: you do things when you can, that goes for officials, trades people and friends.

    Very hard at first to accept for a German like me.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Friko, I am sure you are now used to it? Thanks for visiting this blog

    ReplyDelete
  11. So the thing with time is you have an experience and you adapt. Professionally, I don't generally keep people I have appointments with waiting ... except if they're early.
    Socially, I know my pals. If we're meeting at 6 that means anything from 7 to midnight...

    Mrs. Mwiti I also love that song!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Spinster, I think socially we can have leeway with time, it is on the professional side that is totally unacceptable. Even though there are also some social settings in which we should really be keeping time. Imagine seated at a restaurant getting ready to order dinner then your date shows up 2 hours late!

    ReplyDelete
  13. The easiest way to loose my friendsip, platonic or otherwsie, is to waste my time. Im obssessed with the limited aspct of time, and i value it more than a few African timers.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hmmm...have you ever heard of the IST e.e. Indian Standard Time. We are one of the worst when it comes to respecting time (not me of course :))...the post reminds me of so many people, incidents in my country as well!

    ReplyDelete
  15. As Mrs. Mwiti says it seems we have accepted that tag 'African timer' owned it and even became proud of it. Have you seen how an event slated for a particular time say 9.00 am, the invite will indicate 8.00 so that the 'african timers' are not left out and when you get there early you are told to start networking while you wait for the official starting time? It is a notion we need to get rid of.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Joshi - I have heard of IST but not with that meaning!

    Mackel9 - We have now taken it for granted that when organizing a function we give an allowance of an hour or two for people to arrive!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Do read this post...would give you a fair idea of what I am talking about :)

    http://purba-ray.blogspot.com/2011/04/just-matter-of-time.html

    ReplyDelete
  18. To me it is a disrespect and nothing but. How is my time less valuable than yours? For me it is across the board, be it at work, a party, or whatever it is if there is a time frame that we are working with let us please be respectful with time. The whole African Time is an excuse that has gotten pretty old, made into a tshirt and last time l checked l wipe the kitchen floor with it.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Reading this post reassures me that I am not crazy or alone in expecting and delivering punctuality. However the best comments -in my view are offered by @Friko and@Siddhartha. This is not a solely African thing. Please let us not bash ourselves....ooops I should have left for a dentist's appointment - never mind they always over run. Great post @Otieno

    ReplyDelete
  20. so true...and that term 'African time' whoever came up with it killed us Africans big time. No wonder Africa is still lagging behind in some developments. If we waste time then truly time will waste us...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Sunshine Love, that's a beautiful name you have there! Thanks for visiting!

    ReplyDelete