By Franck Felix Gutenberg, US Africa News. Updated 2016-04-19
When you are invited to an event, you don’t rely too much on the stated time on the invitation for the actual start of things…
It’s so often merely a signifier. This does not prevent the invitation from stating a time with the calculation of a Swiss watchmaker. It is often a “precise” time. Nobody forced the initiators of the event to be that precise, but that’s what’s printed on the document that you actually hold. If you take it literally, you are likely to get yourself worked up. If you are invited specifically for 8 pm, better add a few minutes…maybe even hours. If you rush, you’ll make yourself ridiculous and everyone will look at you like you’re a Martian. Yes, certainly from another planet--you don’t understand African time. And if you have two invitations to two events, forget it. You can’t plan anything.
Afterwards, people are astonished at the almost chronic backwardness of Africa's development. The backwardness starts with the failure of time, because small streams eventually become great rivers.
There are a number of high-level meetings that haven’t escaped this failure. And it has implications for the outcomes. When you arrive late for such a meeting, sometimes you don’t even have time to think about it, to prepare for it. You didn’t prepare working papers and you are happy just to find that the person across from you did the necessary work. These documents then appear as a lifeline, sheer luck! And thus get adopted at lightning speed without worrying about what dirty tricks they may contain. And when you notice it, it's too late. You are forced into all sorts of contortions not to admit that you didn’t really read the original text.
Perhaps you find yourself exaggerating. And on it goes... African time also makes its way into international meetings, where some of our officials are very eager to sign documents without worrying too much about their content. We are told that when abroad, the most important thing is to be a tourist, to indulge in shopping in the exclusive boutiques. And there are people who could apply for the title of perpetual traveler. They are constantly “on a mission”. They say this, as if to complain, showing that they are indispensable, irreplaceable. Only they have the "qualifications" to perform all these tasks. Do not ask them if they have at least filed a report on said mission, they don’t have time. And if they deign to file a report, it will be ready a long, long time after the mission, when it’s no longer likely to be helpful. That’s African time, I tell you.
Even ceremonies, dinners; someone invites you for "8 pm on the dot”; you assume logically that you’ll be home by midnight. But instead it takes all night. At dawn, you're still there trying to get them to serve you food that’s sometimes already a bit spoiled. Life is full of delays like this that tend to become banal, and in the end it seems to explain everything. In particular, the delay of our continent in terms of development. If there’s something we have to do today, we say we can get back to it tomorrow, or the day after, or next year, or even further down the road. That’s African time, I tell you. It takes its time, sometimes too much. What these people, especially, don’t remember is that time is money. And that explains a lot.