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African time – it’s time to move on

African time – it’s time to move onAfrican time – it’s time to move on
African time is the culture of arriving late for everything. It's now time for us to address our timekeeping...

You know it will take you an hour to get to your destination, yet you only leave yourself 45 minutes to get there. You conclude that even if you’re running late, it’s OK as everyone else will be late and there’s no point in being the first to arrive. When you finally get to the venue you find the meeting has been going on for 15 minutes. You feel slightly awkward but then, as you sit down, you laugh and make a joke about ‘African time’. It doesn’t cross your mind to apologise.

Two weeks later it’s your turn to host a meeting. You emphasise the importance of arriving on time. On the day of the meeting, you are at the venue waiting for attendees to arrive, but 15 minutes after the scheduled start time, no one is there. You’re slightly frustrated because you allocated an hour for this meeting knowing that you had other commitments afterwards. People start arriving 30 minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, they sit around chatting and joking about African time. You go through the meeting feeling disappointed because you know you aren’t going to be able to cover all the issues you wanted to discuss.

Welcome to the world of African time – the culture of arriving late for everything. In the Africa of old there were no clocks or watches – people relied on the position of the sun. If the sun was directly overhead you knew it was 12pm, slightly to the west it was 3pm, and at sundown it was 6pm. But these rules were usually widely off the mark – by as much as an hour or two.

There are two sides to every coin. African time gives us an excuse for arriving late for a meeting – it means we feel no sense of guilt. However, when we are the host, African time is very frustrating. If we are to move forward as a community, achieve change and make progress, we have to address our timekeeping. There is a time and a season for everything. Nature works in time and season, our body works according to nature’s timetable, the world’s banks and government agencies all work to specific timescales. Why should it be different for Africans?

It is high time we set aside our flippant attitude to timekeeping. Equally, we need to let people who are late know that their timekeeping is poor and encourage them to improve. If we are unable to be where we said we would be on time, catching up with the rest of the world will take an awfully long time.

Last review date: 2.8.2012
Next review date: 2.8.2014

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Joseph Ochieng is the editor of Mambo magazine and also works on poster campaigns targeting the African community in London. In the 1990s, Joseph pioneered media-based HIV interventions for African communities with his journal Vanguards AIDS Newsletter and several other publications, including the children’s story-book, ‘Meet Fatima, a Girl Who Has HIV’. He also produced ‘HEALTH AFRICA’, the first dedicated HIV radio talk show for UK African communities.

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