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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 16:03 GMT
Can Africa keep time?
Are Africans guilty of killing time?

English playwright, William Shakespeare, once said better three hours too soon than a minute late.

Well, in Africa, attitude to time-keeping is often the opposite of that.

Last week for instance, international journalists in the UK were kept waiting by the king of Ghana's largest ethnic group who was visiting Alexandra Palace in north London at the climax of a Ghanaian trade exhibition, Ghana Expo 2003.

The journalists had been informed that Otumfuo Osei Tutu II from the Ashanti would arrive at the exhibition at 1100.

The time was changed to 1400, but the king did not show up until two hours later when the journalists had already packed and left.

The incident only helped reinforce the belief held by many people in the developed world that Africans are terrible time-keepers.

Cases of a government minister keeping members of the public waiting, a friend turning up late for a date, a judge holding up court proceedings or a public service vehicle leaving and arriving late have become the norm rather than the exception.

The BBC's Africa Live programme asks, is poor time-keeping Africa's worst enemy?

How bad is the problem of punctuality around you? If you are good at time-keeping share your tips with us.

Join the BBC's Africa Live programme Wednesday 29 October at 1630 and 1830 GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.

Your comments:

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

It may be true that King Osei Tutu II came to a scheduled meeting five hours late. It is also true that former Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin appeared an hour late and a day late respectively to scheduled appointments. As a German of Ibo decent, I help myself with time-keeping by setting my time-piece some eight minutes ahead. I decided on this particularly after recognising that I have been usually late to dates and appointments by that margin on the average.Now I can recommend this strategy to anybody because it has not only helped me to keep appointments, it has also convinced my clients of my seriousness in dealings with them.
Mr Mike Ikem, Germany

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

Sometimes people would even mock at others for being punctual!
Mamo Akale

Among the drawbacks we Africans have is that we don't value time. We have problems observing time schedules everywhere. When dating a friend for instance, it is common to be late by thirty minutes, an hour or even more. And that does not surprise anyone. Sometimes people would even mock at others for being punctual!
Mamo Akale

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.

Here are my tips:

  • Have a daily planner and plan all your daily activities ahead of time. Stick to your daily plan and do not practise plug in activities.
  • Do not welcome walk-ins. Be fair and polite to walk-ins by setting up an appointment for them at a later time. When you are about to walk out and the phone rings, do not answer let the answering machine do the job.
  • A friend comes to your house unannounced and you are on your way to an important meeting be honest and just tell him I will call you and leave. If it is a matter of urgency ask the person to follow you to the place and use the few minutes you have before the function to help.
  • When making a point; be brief and straight to the point.
  • Do not spent time on niches and finesse they breed arguments and waste time. Take a course in time management if you do not know how to plan your time.

Kofi Nyandeh, US/Ghana

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

I was a journalist at the Ghana Expo and, though I tried to be kind to the organisers in my article, I believe that the time-keeping of Africans is a very real problem for them, economically-speaking. Here was a wonderful opportunity for Ghanaians to showcase their country, and prove that the business potential there was great, and what did they do - kept the press and the businessman waiting in the cold whilst their king made his leisurely way there. This was a real shame.
Blake Evans-Pritchard, UK

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

90% of the problem can be solved when Africans are put on wages instead of monthly salary.
Nunya Gadegbeku

I think 90% of the problem can be solved when Africans are put on wages instead of monthly salary, then time will be of essence to us.
Nunya Gadegbeku, Ghana

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

I have been in the Western world since 1990, the Europeans are the worst when it comes to time-keeping. The fact that tricks and lies are part of their culture and they were always judged according to that evil culture. But to Africans, it is a crime to lie. Take the media for example,6pm news by CNN on a particular topic is reported differently by various channels. This is a lie but it is acceptable in the west. The Ghanaian king is the product of the West and his bad time-keeping was inherited from British criminals who invaded his country. So do not blame Africans.
Bamba, south africa

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

Its not only Africa. My wife went to a wedding in Portugal earlier this year and the priest turned up an hour late. The Portuguese people there did not seem at all concerned, apparently this is normal for that country. Perhaps the question we should really be asking is, are North Europeans and Americans too "up tight" about time keeping?
Nick, UK

Having lived and worked in Africa, I observed that poor time-keeping is just a symptom of the greater attitude to discipline. I am not saying that a laid back attitude to life is wrong or bad - but it makes it near impossible to compete with Asian countries or meet a Western country's product and delivery expectations.

As the saying goes, 'there is a time and place for everything'. As Africans, we must realise that there is a time to make excuses for our culture of bad time-keeping; but there is also a time to acknowledge that this attitude does nothing for our reputation on the world stage. We are not genetically predisposed to be late, so come on fellow Africans: Get with the Times, and be on Time!!
Georgina Taiwo Awoonor-Gordon, UK / Sierra Leone

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 times about an hour before you actually want anyone to show up. In the beginning it is frustrating, but you learn to deal with it. Westerners should accept this when they go to Africa, but they should not have to put up with it in their own culture. For many, it's used as a scapegoat device. Africans in the diaspora should learn to be on time - what they do in their own country is a different story.
Julia Kenna, US

Is Detroit Michigan, USA considered part of Africa? A lot of people around here subscribe to the "CPT" theory or "Coloured Peoples Time" which is at the least 15 minutes behind any appointed time.
Loowe Seeno, US

Being both African and American, I can appreciate this seeming dichotomy between the continents in their response to time. In the US, I resist any effort to be tied to time. I arrive on my own time to any appointment if I can help it. Africans tell time by moments: sunset, dawn, cock-crow, position of shadow (sun's movement), etc. That suits me. Those who are prisoners of clocks are also more likely to miss out on life's passing moments.
Man Rusa, U.S.

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. If you are, you will be accused of having done-in the deceased.
Longa, Canada

Being a Nigerian I hardly keep to time. This really bothered me until I took a course in international management that pointed out that some cultures can either be monochronic (time or schedule oriented) or polychronic (event oriented) in their approach to things. Africans are polychronic in their approach. Although the case of the Ghanaian king is a little extreme, I think it is high time we all agree that lateness is part of the African culture and leave it at that.
Yejide Fakiyesi, Canada

I agree keeping time in Africa is a problem although the first clock was invented in Africa. However, it cannot be that only Africans are late but I would advice the Africans to have a philosophy of better time-keeping.
Abanessa Jollusambe, Belgium

Of course we can keep time. In Southern Africa, now means some time in the next few days, just now means the next half hour or so, and now now the next ten minutes!
Jon, South Africa

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

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