African Time – Fashionably Late…..Or Played Out?

Oh African time, what can we say?

We call for a meeting at 1pm, but don’t start till 4pm and if we’re lucky, maybe 3:30pm (lucky being the keyword here). We plan events to commence at a certain time, but it will be safe to bet that the event has barely been set up for guests upon their arrival.


It’s a phenomenon that remains an epidemic all over the continent. In my experience, no country is immune to it. Some might say it’s a cultural “thing” for lack of better words. We have even gone as far as putting false *ahem* earlier start times on our invitation cards because “the party really starts at 5pm, but we put down 3pm because we know people will really come right at 5pm. We need to have our bases covered you know.” 

Talk about avoiding a logistical nightmare.

The “oh, you know how our people are” excuse started to get very old really quickly when it almost cost me my job. I’ll spare you  the painful details, but it involved me waiting around for a friend who didn’t show up at the time we agreed on, which led to me almost missing my next meeting with a very important client. Come to find out that this certain friend’s reason for being late was:

“Ah, brah, didn’t realize you were really going to be there at noon”, followed by a cheerful pat on the back.

And yes, we are still friends, but it took me a minute to get over it.

So, here are a few lessons I learned from the real world about being late:

If you work in the corporate world and you stick to African time off duty, you might be perceived as a hypocrite

I mean, we have no problem putting every effort in the world into getting to work at 8:00am sharp (or else!), but we can waltz casually into a wedding right as its about to end? ‘Nuff said.

It is not “cute” or “fashionable” to be late. In many contexts, it is a sign of disrespect

When you tell someone to meet you at a certain time, but have that person waiting for a good hour or so because you are observing African time, you are basically saying “Hey, I don’t respect your time enough to meet you when we agreed upon”  Never mind that this person may have cut a prior meeting short, traveled a long distance, gotten out of bed relatively early or skipped some family time just to meet with you.

Culture, smulture

Without a solid, viable reason for being late, like being stuck in traffic, a dead relative or an accident on the road, your excuse for being late is not because you are running on African time, but because you are looking for a reason to loaf around a while longer before you get a movin’.

Till next time.


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