By Motunrayo Adesina
The Director came up the stairs amidst applause and cheers to close the meeting with some announcement and in his usual manner; he smiled and raised his arms to get some decorum. “The next meeting is March 10 by 5pm” he announced and in a plea-like format, he added “Please, NO AFRICAN TIME”.
Wait! Can someone tell me where in the dictionary or otherwise abridged version that exist? Oh! Wikipedia seems to reckon with it, considering it as a perceived cultural tendency in most parts of Africa towards a more relaxed attitude to time. This is sometimes used in a pejorative sense about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events. Point is, we as Africans have carved out the phrase ‘African time’ as an excuse for indiscipline, laziness and nonchalant attitude to keeping to time. The question arises, are we born with the culture of ‘African time’ or is it one we begin to pick up with time? Do Africans in diaspora also have the culture of African time or they adopt the time of the continent in which they live? Is there an Australian time or an Asian time? Do you get to a certain age where you have to imbibe the attitude of African time? When you Practice the habit of African time, does your father give that proud look and say “there goes my son?”
When I was in secondary school, I remember assembly starts by 7:45am and the princicpal does not show up until 8:05am!. The most remarkable experience is party times; I dress up, ready to go and my mum gives me a funny look, accompanied by this expression we are all used to; do you want to help set up for the party? Also, times I got to an event on time, I realize I had to wait the next couple of hours for it to start.
Not only is the African time widely accepted, it is also ‘cool’ to be late. It was perceived as cool to walk into an event about an hour or two late to give an impression of a busy schedule or like some Nigerians would say: ‘just to show face’. I mean if your intention is ‘just to show your face’ why bother? Since I could not beat them, I gladly joined them.
The ‘African time’ syndrome has negatively affected daily activities from how we run our businesses, prepare for business meetings, treat our dates or how students respond to academic resumption dates or class deadlines. This syndrome has eaten into our ways that we do not have a sense of urgency to anything whatsoever. We realize we stall in getting out of bed, stall in taking a shower, stall in adding milk to our bowl of cereal and stall in making decisions on life changing issues.
As my thoughts deepened on the African time mentality, I realized how it has affected and is still affecting productivity and our lives. Because we are stalling and getting late to everywhere and everything we need to get done, little or nothing is achieved in the best possible time.
Let us consider time as an abstract expression to gets things done. As individuals, ill managed time allows opportunities pass us by in seconds and easier path slips off our fingers. Therefore, we spend more time, energy and resources on projects that should have taken less. Maybe our life span is shortened because we did not employ the right health habits early enough, maybe you lost your dear grandfather to coughing fit because you did not take him to the clinic early enough, maybe that job could have been yours if you applied a day before the deadline, or you might have been the best staff at work if only you arrived 30 minutes earlier than the less competent staff it was awarded to.
Africa’s economic growth suffers from this mentality. . Maybe Nigeria’s vision 2020 will happen in 2040 because we are stalling. Maybe our inaction will promote corruption for another decade.
At the end of my seemingly endless maybes, maybe you can achieve your set goals within the stipulated time frame if only you begin to do things right and at the right time. I will never forget one of the quotes, or shall I call it rhyme that most of us grew up with; “Always do the right things, at the right time and in the right place”. You will be amazed how much you can get done.