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Tackling The African Man Time Syndrome. Manasseh F. Paul-Worika

Tobi, a first class graduate from a prestigious university in Nigeria, by the calculation of friends and family should be established with a job in one of the multi-nationals in the country. But contrary to this expectation, Tobi has been unemployed for 5 years and the “Great” future anticipated by him and those around him seem to be disappearing. His hopes were beginning to fail and for some, Tobi was best described as “Potential with no purpose”.

Just as hopes were diminishing, Tobi got a mail from his dream organization inviting him for an interview. To him, his prayer has been answered and he was just moments away from his “best days” in life. Unsurprisingly, Tobi came tops in the written test conducted by the organization and was shortlisted to move to the next stage of the interview, the last before getting his placement.

Mr. Charles, HR head of the organization came up the stairs amidst applause to address the shortlisted candidates for the next level and in his usual manner; he smiled and raised his arms to get some decorum. “The next stage would hold next Thursday by 5am” he announced and in a plea-like voice, he added “please, NO AFRICAN MAN TIME”.

On the scheduled day for the final interview, it was quarter past 4am and Tobi was still covered in his duvet like a new born wrapped in his clothings. To him, it was pretty impossible for any organization to start an interview by 5am. He said to himself, “This is Africa what time will the officials get off their beds? How about my other mates, what time will they prepare to meet up the interview by 5am”. It is practically impossible for that interview to commence by 5am, he reassured himself.

By 6:00am, Tobi set for the interview and arrived by 6:45am. Arriving the complex, he saw those shortlisted with him coming out with smiles. Confused, he called out to one of them and asked the reason for their excitement.

Tobi got the shocking news of his life when he was told the interview held at 5:00am and there was an order from the Director that all those who were present at the stipulated time be given automatic employment.

This was too strong to swallow and all efforts to reach the management was abortive as his slot was already given out. That was how Tobi missed an opportunity of his life by simply embracing the African Man time syndrome.

This story illustrates clearly, the negative impact of the “African Man Time” syndrome in the activities of men and the result on personal advancement and societal development.

Wikipedia seems to reckon with the concept of “African Man Time” considering it as “a perceived cultural tendency in most parts of Africa towards a more relaxed attitude to time. This is sometimes used in a pejorative sense about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events”.

The point is, as Africans, we have carved out the phrase “African man time” as an excuse for indiscipline, laziness and non-chalant attitude to keeping to time. The question arises, are we born with the attitude of “African time” or is it one we began to pick up with time? Do Africans in Diaspora also have the culture of African time or they adopt the time of the continent in which they live? Is there an “American time” or an “Asian time” or “Australian time”. Do you get to a certain age where you have to imbibe the attitude of African time? When you practice the habit of African Man time, will anyone give you that proud look and say? “Kudos”.

Not only is the African man time widely accepted, in many social and even official events, it is also “cool” to be late. It is perceived as cool to walk into an event about an hour or two late, to give an impression of a busy schedule or as some Nigerians would say. “Make I just show face” I mean if your intention is “just to show face”, why bother?

No society can hope to be competitive or catch up with the rest of humanity if it disrespects time. Unfortunately, and this is the bad news, the concept of African man time continues to provide a convenient excuse for the tardiness of those who are lazy or just plain rude. Of course, those who invoke African man time are not ignorant, they know that by saying it is part of African culture to disregard punctuality; very few will have the nerve to challenge them.

Like many things attributed to some ancient, but still prevalent social norm, African man time does not stand up to scrutiny. If you go to even the simplest village, you immediately realize just how much the village folks respect time. If there is a gathering, the ordinary folk will be there on time. What’s more, even the unemployed villager will be up at the crack of dawn to make the most of his day. So African man time is nothing but a myth.

African man time continues to give Africans a bad reputation of never meeting up to the demands of punctuality and meeting set target. It lingers like an awful smell that will just not go away-Everywhere you go, you see examples of tardiness that can be linked back to the myth of African man’s time. I have lost count of the number of otherwise classy events held at swanky venues I have attended that still started an hour late. I have been to weddings that started up to three hours later than the advertised time. And the guests waited and survived on a mixture of small talk and gossips. Nothing is safe from African man time

There is truly nothing more annoying than to receive an invitation to an up-market event and when you arrive at the venue, there is hardly anyone there, not even the host. Invariably, if you bother to call them to find out why they are late, they tell you that they are around the corner, or the perennial favorite, they are five minutes away. Of course, that always turns out to be untrue and you end up waiting and wondering why they did not just choose a time they could manage.

What is particularly distressing is that African man time bug has arrived at many schools. As you walk or drive past a school, you see a group of children casually walking over well past the official resumption time. The child that has not been taught to respect time cannot possibly learn anything. The tragic thing is, those who arrive late are invariably the first to leave. For some strange reason, they are always pressed for time when it comes to leaving their office or an event. That’s the only time you will discover that they actually own a watch.

The African man mentality has negatively affected daily activities from how we run our businesses, prepare for business meetings, treat our dates or how students respond to academic resumption dates or class deadlines. This syndrome has eaten into our ways that we do not have a sense of urgency to anything whatsoever. We realize we, still late in getting out of bed, still late in taking a shower, late adding milk to our bowl of cereal and in making decisions on life changing issues.

As my thoughts deepened on the African man time mentality, I realized how it has affected and is still affecting productivity. Because we are stalling and getting late to everywhere and everything we need to get done, little or nothing is achieved in the best possible time.

We should consider time no longer as an abstract expression but a practical symbol of efficiency to get things done. As individuals, ill managed time allows opportunities pass us by in seconds as profitable path slips off our fingers and making us spend more time, energy and resources on projects that should have taken less to achieve.

Maybe life is shortened because we did not employ the right health habits early enough; maybe we failed in that exam or venture because we didn’t take our studies seriously or prepared well enough when we ought to. May be that job would have been yours if you applied before the deadline, or you could have been the best staff if only you arrived 30minutes earlier than the less competent staff that was awarded the prize.

Africa’s economic growth suffers from this malady. Maybe Nigeria’s vision 2020 will happen in 2040 because we are stalling our own effort by our failure to be time conscious.

At the end of seemingly endless excuses, maybe you can achieve your set goals within the stipulated time frame if you begin to do things right and at the right time. “Always do the right things, at the right time and in the right place”, you will be amazed how much you can get done. This childhood rhyme is still instructive.

The time for tolerating the myth of ‘African-man time’ is gone. To be masters of our destiny, we need to stop those who still consider it fashionable to render fashioned excuses for what is simply a lack of commitment and punctuality to meet objectives and goals.

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