Long ago, celestial bodies like the sun, moon, planets and stars were used to provide a reference for measuring the passage of time throughout our existence.
Ancient civilizations relied upon the apparent motion of these bodies through the sky to determine seasons, months, and years.
We know little about the details of timekeeping in pre-historic times, but wherever we turn up records and artifacts, we can discover that in every culture, and in every society, some people were preoccupied with measuring and recording the passage of time.
Not until somewhat recently, in terms of human history did people find a need for knowing the time of day. Why we need clocks and calendars?
Looking at our lives today, some of the answers may seem obvious. To survive in this complex society, you need to track what others are doing and when they’re doing it.
One also needs to know what’s happening in the natural world, what season it is, for example. If you didn’t know the time or date, you’d be seriously out of sync with your world. You would miss an appointment or some big time deal in a business.
Surprisingly, it’s not just modern humans who need to keep track of time. All living things must know the time to adjust to their environment as it changes. Bears know when to hibernate.
When night is over, they know when to wake up. Plants know when to blossom. Many birds know when it’s time to head to a region for the grains during harvest or migrate to places where it is warm summer away from the cold winter environment.
Almost a century has passed since the adoption of the first international labour standard on working hours, which stipulates the principle of the eight-hour day and 48-hour week, and 70 years since the 48-hour week was adopted as the standard to which countries should aspire.
The eight-hour day was a key demand of the working class all over the world. To the workers, the extension and generalized application of the eight-hour day represented a reform which no other could equal in value – a chance to share in the distribution of the new wealth created by modern industry and to receive that share in the form of spare time.
However, the developed economies realized that this did not only imply working during the day. The 24 hour economy was adopted that enabled work done in cycles while retaining the same principle day and night.
This method overturned their fortunes and with a few decades magnificent economic transformations were recorded. Singapore which was a tiny city at independence for example, utilized the value of time and saw its GDP per capita skyrocket to one of the highest in the world.
Despite the common adage, ‘time is money’ we have often failed to learn from the same and existing examples like Singapore.
Most of the African countries to this date largely rely on the eight hour rule, they still believe in working from 8 am to 5pm from Monday to Friday, thereafter spending their time on family and recreation.
Let us focus for a moment on the East African Community, which is one of the most impressive and progressive regional blocs in Africa.
Changing the mindset of our local citizens is paramount if the transformations we all talking about are to bear fruit.
Private and public sector players in the region should consider embracing the ideals of a 24-hour economy to accelerate economic growth.
As we upgrade to the 24 hour economy, the misleading perception of Africans being poor time keepers must be abandoned. For instance, intentional failure to be present for a meeting at the agreed starting time where out of an audience of one hundred, it would often be less than ten should not just be casually be frowned upon but must be sanctioned!
If it is a meeting of two people, the one who arrives late even cracks a joke about his late coming instead of being embarrassed about it.
Actually, there is no effort, even in this cellphone era, to ring the waiting person about any delays. We have even nicknamed this sad reality “African time.”
This is a myth and mindset that will roll us ages back. As a region, we must now take full advantage of our fast growing industries to make use of quality of time.
A sizeable number of businesses across the region have already embraced the 24-hour model, with the aim of boosting sales and raising their profit margins, especially in highly competitive sectors.
Home-grown business organizations, petrol stations, hotels and the banking sector are at the forefront in embracing the 24-hour economy.
In Rwanda, leading supermarkets and food joints have adopted this and more businesses are seen to be following in earnest.
Kigali, like any other city, should be appealing to the small and medium business enterprise holders and not only entail night life geared towards attracting the youth who frequent night clubs and dancing halls.
As the famous German sociologist once observed, “loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation”.
While this may sound a little harsh, there an iota of truth in this!
The writer is a consultant and visiting lecturer at the RDF Senior Command and Staff College, Nyakinama.