Why African Time Connotes Delay

Published on: August 29, 2021 (Updated on: April 22, 2024)

Why African time connotes delay
Why African time connotes delay

The concept of African time is something that's not new to many people, especially those of us based in Nigeria. This post explains the reason why African time connotes delay.

As the term implies, it is attributed to the African people and also individuals who are known to have the habit of delay. It is a bad habit that has become so common in Africa and has found its way into dictionaries.

1. But what exactly does African time mean?

Unlike what many who aren't familiar with the term might think, African time, as used in the African context, has nothing to do with the Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT) system. African time is a demeaning term that connotes tardiness to almost every appointment, and it's very common to the African people.

However, the term wasn't always synonymous with the word 'delay'. In the African culture, especially around the rural parts, men can be seen on the farm before sunrise, and women have been known to be early risers and diligent caretakers of the home. The rural folk show due respect towards time and come early to gatherings.

2. Reason why African time connotes delay

African cultures are polychronic by nature. With so many spontaneous tasks to complete on a daily basis, it is usually difficult to be early all the time. However, it has become a normal habit in Africa to be late to almost everything. This relaxed attitude towards time has become a cultural tendency, hence, nobody bothers to examine this behavior.

This behavior has slowly crept into African culture and some even see it as a form of courtesy to arrive at an event later than the proposed time.

2.2 Some other reasons why African people embrace this habit of tardiness include:

  • To avoid the awkwardness of being the first to arrive at an event. This usually makes people appear desperate or seem foolish, especially when they arrive too early, hence, many tend to avoid arriving early on occasions.
  • Because of our polychronic culture, we have so many tasks to accomplish in so little time. Hence, many people believe it would be more gainful to use up more time in accomplishing some of those tasks, limiting the time that ought to be spent elsewhere
  • Another reason why many people embrace tardiness in Africa is because they believe it to be a polite behavior. Some people may see it as rude to arrive at an appointment earlier than the person who invited them.
  • Africans generally do not like to be unproductive. Sometimes, being early to an event may leave you with nothing to do until the event fully kicks off. Because of this, people often tend to arrive late when the event has fully commenced. Although this is a bad habit, it has been ingrained into African culture and would be difficult to eliminate completely.
  • The African people have become used to this behavior and this is why African time connotes delay. The tardy habit of Africans can be traced to the polychronic culture of the African people where we try to do so many things at once.
  • If we could be more monochronic in our behavior and try to accomplish one task at a time in an orderly fashion, then the attribute of delay might be alleviated from the term 'African Time'.