Keeping Time in Africa – the African Concept of Time

Posted by on November 27, 2015

Keeping Time in Africa – Learning the African concept of Time

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

When will we get there – soon – hours later you are still as we say “on the way”


Keeping 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 as 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 pressing things before them and just focus on you. The relationship that is more important and the tasks at hand become secondary since in Africa the relationships work out to become part of the task solution.

Westerner’s who come to Africa find such attitudes one of their greatest frustration. They came to do something  (tasks) … a few months or even years later, they leave very frustrated…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 of Europeans who spent months and years in Africa but never allowed Africa (Africans) to meet them. They simply tip-toe through the continent and barely scratch the surface.

I have met many a young person that came to Africa with high ideals, wanting to help, wanting to change Africa (hmm) only burn out and become angry with Africans and Africa. One of the 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…Of what is the heart of Africa, its people and that everything gets done relationally.

Africa is first and foremost relational in its approach to life. Tasks are subjugated to the relational aspect of life and are completed in order 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. I used to sit in the lobby at the Sheraton in Kampala drinking another cup of coffee waiting for one of my co-workers who would arrive fashionably late, nothing was lost, I learned to enjoy the time. I simply enjoyed my surroundings, watched people, overheard conversations, read “The East African and waited. Africans are usually late not because they are rude but because they were tied up with other people and it w ould have been not polite to just leave.

I was invited to dinner at a friend’s house in Nairobi. I was supposed to be picked up at 5 pm. The hour came and went, 6 pm, and then 7 pm. I cooked something after 7 and ate, 8 o’clock came and I started to enjoy a book when just after 9 pm my friend rolled into the courtyard, smiling at me as he greeted me.

Off we went to late dinner at his house, he never told me why he was late, never said a thing. I never told him that I had eaten dinner; become a relational person, I just ate dinner “again” and enjoyed the time of friendship with him, his family and friends.

I grew up in Germany where time ruled life. The bells of the nearby church tolled on time every 15 minutes during the daytime hours. As a little boy I never missed ringing the bells at noon with the church maintenance person who lived on my street. You were never late, no matter what you had to do. Punctuality was part of being German. Here in America “time is money.” You simple move and dance to the tune of the clock. At work we clock in and out and the clock rules the day.

In Africa, it is not the clock that rules the day…but the relationship. It is being a human being instead of a human doing. Jobs are important and people do come to work on time, but even at work there is an interaction and relational approach to the tasks at hand.

Life is short 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, just to get by. Having enough food is part of that struggle. This past weekend President Museveni stated that “nine million Ugandans” (total population is 3million) did not have enough food, were starving and often eating the wrong things.

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 most 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 &#8220;they are on the way&#8221; &#8211; they might never come…from Kampala&#8230;jon</p>
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. 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…