Keeping Time in Africa – the African Concept of Time

Posted by on January 14, 2020

Keeping Time in Africa – Learning the African Concept of Time

The concept of time in Africa – it is not about Punctuality but about Relationships


Keeping Time in Africa - the African Concept of TimeKeeping Time in Africa: Come to the door of a house in Uganda, and you will most likely hear, “You are most welcome.” Africans are some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. They will take you into their homes and make you feel like one of the family. You will be given something to eat and or drink, even if it is the last thing that is there. They will put aside all the essential items before them and focus on you. The focus is on the relationship, and the tasks at hand become secondary since, in Africa, the relationships work out to become part of the task solution.

Keeping Time in Africa: Westerners who come to Africa find such attitudes one of their most considerable frustration. They came to do something (tasks) … a few months or even years later, they leave frustratedly…never completing what they came to do. They never learned how things happen in Africa…relationally.

Western Culture does not prepare us to explore other worlds, other cultures. We make judgments that keep us from entering into the world we are visiting. We only touch the surface, like a person going swimming, entering the wading pool, but never the swimming pool. I have met countless Europeans who spent months and years in Africa but never allowed Africa (Africans) to meet them. They tip-toe through the continent and barely scratch the surface.

Keeping Time in Africa - the African Concept of TimeMany come to Africa with high ideals, wanting to help, wanting to change Africa only burn out, and become angry with Africans and Africa. One of the offensive slogans of such a person is “Africa wins again.” Sadly such a person comes to and leaves Africa totally clueless at what makes Africa tick, what, and how to get things done. 

Many never learn what the heart of Africa, its people, and that everything gets done relationally is. Africa is first and foremost relational in its approach to life. Tasks are subjugated to the relational aspect of the experience. They are completed to help the family, the clan, the village, and the tribe.

Walk, drive around Africa, and you will see people sitting, chatting, waiting. You come by a few hours later, and they have not moved. Are they not bored? No, the African enjoys and savors the Time before him. There is not the anxiousness to do this or that, to meet this deadline or that one.

If you make an appointment to meet, enjoy the wait. Take in the surroundings, observe people. You can always read a newspaper or a book on your smartphone. 

Africans are usually late not because they are rude but because they were tied up with other people, and it would have been not polite to leave them.

Keeping Time in Africa: In America, Time is money, In Germany, Punctuality is everything except the trains are no longer on Time there. In countries like Tanzania, trains can run a day late. Africans take such things into stride and adjust. They settle in for the day and night and make the best out of an annoying situation.

Keeping Time in Africa - the African Concept of TimeLife tends to be shorter in Africa. AIDS has taken another ten years or more off the average life span of Africans. Life expectancy is often half of that in the West, where it approaches 80 or more, whereas in many parts of Africa it 50 years or less.

When your life is short, and you know that most of the people around you are dying young, your approach to life becomes different. You value relationships more than tasks, for it is the relationship that will nurture you when you hit rough waves in your life’s journey.

One of the first things a Westerner realizes in being in Africa is that life is hard for the average African, that there is more of a struggle in everyday life, to get by. Having enough food is part of that struggle. 

Yes, life is a struggle in Africa, and it is because of that daily struggle that there is also that celebrant spirit. Africans love to celebrate almost anything. They enjoy each other and celebrate the relationships that they have and include each other as they celebrate life and, at times, death.

Yes, when life is short, the Clock reminds of the shortness of life, probably one of the reasons that Africans will often ignore the Clock hence –shortness, probably one of the reasons that Africans will often ignore the Clock. They realize that enduring things in life have to do with family, friends, relationships, and not a day ruled by the Clock, and when someone says they are on the way, they might never come.

. They realize that enduring things in life have to do with family, friends, relationships and not a day ruled by the Clock, and when someone says they are on the way, they might never come.

Keeping Time in Africa: On Safari you will find that the African concept of time is not applied. Most Tour-Operators go by the itinerary.