Africans Don’t Know What Time Is

2008 > Ghana

And woe to those who do and care.

not express to me
Express service? Not quite.
I am sitting in yet another “go slow” amazed that Ghanaian businessmen can waste so much time. When I was told we were going to the freight forwarder’s office, I groaned, knowing the traffic jam that surrounds his office.

When I complained that it would take us at least an hour each way, he countered with the correct but inaccurate, “What’s the problem? It is two kilometers from here.” While that is the true distance, the complete gridlock on those two kilometers will waste most our day.

And yet here we sit, inching along at 1 kilometer an hour, my life flashing before my eyes. The big boss man, he is stoic, looking out the window lost in thought, or at least calm. His complete disregard for time is not unique.

In Nigeria, tardiness was so rampant and egregious, I started betting people on the length of their delay. The bet would go something like this:

Me: Where are you? We were to meet now.
He: I am on my way, I will be there in 30 minutes!
Me: Ha! I bet you $5 you will be at least an hour late.
He: No, I am faster than that, I take you bet!
90 minutes later
Me: Where are you?
He: I am almost there, I swear!
Me: Right! Double or nothing that you will be another hour.
He: No, no, you will take all my money!

I did that enough times to win about $150 in Nigeria. I need to start this practice in Ghana too. I could finance most of my personal travel that way. Betting Africans that they don’t know what time is.

Of course, I’ve spent enough time waiting for people that I developed a theory on the lack of time management. Simply, Africans don’t know time because they never had too. They don’t usually have jobs that require close clock-watching, and so don’t even use watches or clocks to measure time. They only need a general approximation of what time it is, so an hour is a flexible unit of measurement that is felt rather than defined.

And maybe they live better lives because of it.

One Comment on “Africans Don’t Know What Time Is

  1. African’s inattention to clock time contrasts greatly with the Japanese concept that “if you are on time for the appointment, you are already late”…so be 10 minutes early. Remember Chinese trains leave on time! Asia time vs.Africa time!