ENGLISH playwright, William Shakespeare, once said better three hours too soon than a minute late. In many African countries, Rwanda included, attitudes to time-keeping are often the opposite.
Some weeks back, during the Christmas holidays, local music fans were kept waiting by some of renowned local artists, who were to perform that day at the Petit Stade in Remera. The concert was supposed to at six in the evening but the concert begun at ten.
The incident only reinforced the belief that Africans are terrible time-keepers.
Cases of government officials keeping members of the public waiting, a friend turning up late for a date and a judge holding up court proceedings are examples of what is quickly becoming the norm.
I recently had an interesting debate on time keeping in African societies with people from different African countries; one of the friends from Ethiopia had this to say “in Ethiopia there is a saying “Yehabesh ketero” which means “Ethiopian appointment”.
This means that if you are supposed to arrive at 1pm, it’s OK to arrive at 2 or 3pm.”
Similarly, it is a habit here in our country that, when you have an appointment with somebody, you virtually have to add an hour or more to the time you have agreed.
Another friend of mine from southern Africa said “when life is short, the clock reminds one of that shortness, probably one of the reasons that Africans will often ignore the clock. They realize that the enduring things in life are family, friends, relationships and not a clock”.
This fellow was of the view that, in Africa where life expectance is almost half than that of westerners due to poverty and epidemic diseases like AIDS, one’s approach to life becomes different.
One tends to value relationships more than tasks, for it is the relationship that will nurture one when hit by rough waves in life’s journey.
This, however, should instead remind us that we need to plan for the short time that is available to us.
There are certain occasions in Africa when punctuality is ridiculed or even condemned. Among the Kakwa and Baganda in Uganda one has to be late for a feast to show that he is a dignified person.
For instance in the Luganda rhetoric, there is a saying that “owamannyi takera” meaning that “the strong/powerful one does not arrive in time”.
In some other African societies, being punctual for feasts is associated with impatience. It is criminal to arrive early for funerals. If you are, you will be accused of having done in the deceased.
It is said that time is money. Here are some techniques of help you manage your time:
- Do things because you really want to do them, not because you feel like you have to do them. Now there are situations where this doesn’t apply across the board, such as family emergencies, etc., but in the everyday sense, make sure that you’re not constantly doing things out of guilt or feelings of obligation.
- Try to have a log book or a To-to-do list where you can note down what you are doing and what else needs to be done. This will better help you manage your time, so you don’t end up repeating tasks.
- Focus on doing only a few things, and do them very well. The power of focus cannot be understated here. If you try to be the “Jack of all trades”, you truly will be the master of none. Remember the old adage: “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.
In Rwanda, time is taken for granted as and we mismanage it. We need to tackle this issue as we are dealing with corruption because they all breed procrastination which will always keep our economies wanting.
Seth Buhingiro is a social commentator