“African Time” AKA “Lack of professionalism”

I get thoroughly annoyed when I hear an African man or woman embracing the concept of “African time”. For e.g. “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m late I’m running on ‘African Time’” (*best said with a smile and nonchalant shrug of the shoulders*)… Every person of African descent should be ill-at-ease in legitimizing tardy, laissez-faire behavior by simply slapping “African” or “of/from Africa” in front of it. It simply perpetuates the patronizing notion that in Africa, a lack of discipline and professionalism is acceptable.

Sadly, while I would like to stay a little longer on this soapbox, I can’t: In most countries I have had the opportunity of visiting, a pre-determined rendezvous time has been viewed as a “suggested meeting time” almost 7 out of 10 times. So often I have found myself in a poorly air-conditioned restaurant waiting for someone only for that person to arrive 30 minutes to an hour later (no courteous “I’m-running-late” phone call before-hand). I’m finding that this is more prevalent among younger people (under the age of 30 at the time of writing of this article) and, of course, politicians. With the latter, I have witnessed that waiting time is largely dependent on the “rank” of the individual concerned… Therefore, if you are waiting for Minister, expect that they will be 45 minutes to an hour later, but if you have an appointment with the President just write off the entire day.

Lack of punctuality, to me, is akin to a lack of respect and professionalism. It simply communicates to the other person that you think your time is more important than theirs. This is highly inconsiderate and inconvenient for the punctual party. Ironically, if you become known as a person that is not punctual, people will soon start trying to manage your time for you. They will arrange an appointment with you 30-60 minutes before their actual desired meeting time. This exercise, while absolutely necessary for punctual people working in certain jurisdictions, seems a little inefficient – invariably someone will waste time waiting. We would all simply be better off sticking to the pre-arranged time.

I have also noticed that people who are not punctual (when it comes to “meeting times”)  are also not punctual when it comes to delivering (whether it be a service or on their part in a transaction). This follows naturally because being “punctual” requires the same disciplines required to meet any time-based commitment: An unequivocal undertaking:

  • to keep one’s word… People like this just don’t feel “right” if they gave someone their word and were not able to deliver;
  • to respect for time… People like this hate being late

The ability to refrain from making promises based on events yet to transpire… Arguably this is the most important element. People like this only commit to things based on factors within their control. In other words, if there is something that needs to take place in order for them to be able to deliver/arrive, they will WAIT until that factor has taken place before committing anything.

Only people who have all three of the above traits appreciate punctuality and are punctual. Certainly, it may happen that something “comes up”, but ten to one, a person with the aforementioned behaviors will put themselves in the shoes of the party that arrived on time, exhibit professionalism and do the right thing…

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Born in Zambia, but residing in Johannesburg, Chipego Himonga is passionate about the African Continent. Having spent a decade in the Petroleum industry (Chevron), he finally decided to "give Entrepreneurship a go". He is currently based in Côte d'Ivoire as co-founder and director of Promont Group an agri-centric business and Phoenix Property Investments - a property development house. He studied law at the University of Cape Town to Masters level (Maritime and Shipping Law).

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