African time

African time or Africa time is the perceived cultural tendency, in parts of Africa and the Caribbean[1] toward a more relaxed attitude to time.[2][3] This is sometimes used in a pejorative sense, about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events.[4] This also includes the more leisurely, relaxed, and less rigorously scheduled lifestyle found in African countries, especially as opposed to the more clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries.[5] As such, it is similar to time orientations in some other non-Western culture regions.[6][7]


In the United States, a similar term is "colored people's time".


The appearance of a simple lack of punctuality or a lax attitude about time in Africa, may instead reflect a different approach and method in managing tasks, events, and interactions. African cultures are often described as "polychronic",[8][9] which means people tend to manage more than one thing at a time rather than in a strict sequence. Personal interactions and relationships are also managed in this way, such that it is not uncommon to have more than one simultaneous conversation.[9] An African "emotional time consciousness" has been suggested which contrasts with Western "mechanical time consciousness".[10]

In the Caribbean, "...[t]hings just won't always happen as quickly or as precisely as you may be accustomed to". Due to the cultural influence of "Caribbean time" or "island time", locals do not have the sense of time pressure that is part of Western culture.[11]

Reactions to time orientation in Africa and the Caribbean

Self-criticism and commentary

The concept of African time has become a key topic of self-criticism in modern Africa. According to one Ghanaian writer,

One of the main reasons for the continuing underdevelopment of our country is our nonchalant attitude to time and the need for punctuality in all aspects of life. The problem of punctuality has become so endemic that lateness to any function is accepted and explained off as 'African time.'[12]

In October 2007, an Ivorian campaign against African time, backed by President Laurent Gbagbo, received international media attention when an event called "Punctuality Night" was held in Abidjan to recognize business people and government workers for regularly being on time. The slogan of the campaign is "'African time' is killing Africa – let's fight it." Reuters reported that "organizers hope to heighten awareness of how missed appointments, meetings or even late buses cut productivity in a region where languid tardiness is the norm". It was remarked that this year's winner, legal adviser Narcisse Aka—who received a $60,000 villa in recognition of his punctuality—"is so unusually good at being punctual that his colleagues call him 'Mr White Man's Time'".[13] Some Western tourists in the Caribbean "...become infuriated if locals don't respond as promptly or as efficiently to every request as employees or service personnel do back home".[11]

The contrast between African time and Western time is illustrated in the award-winning short film Binta and the Great Idea. The protagonist of the film, a fisherman in a small village in Senegal, can't understand the new ideas brought back from Europe by his friend; these are symbolized by a Swiss wristwatch, which rings at various times to the delight of the friend, but for no apparent reason. The fisherman is shown making his way through the various ranks of officials with his idea, which in the end is a sharp criticism of Western culture's obsession with efficiency and progress.

See also


  1. "Caribbean Culture - Caribbean Time - Island Time". Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  2. "What is this thing called African Time?". Daily Maverick. 21 January 2010. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  3. Josh Macabuag. "Adjusting to Africa time -". Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  4. "Can Africa keep time?". BBC News. 28 October 2003. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  5. "Backdrop of poverty to a wealth of nations". The Daily Telegraph. 26 August 2002. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  6. Greg Flakus. "Texas-Based Nigerian Filmmaker Explores Tardiness as Cultural Rift". Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  7. Bert Hamminga. "A Comparision [sic] of the Western and African Concepts of Time" (PDF). Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  8. "International Community Resources: Cultural Differences". Iowa State University. 7 June 2011. Archived from the original on 9 February 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  9. Charlene Solomon; Michael S. Schell (15 May 2009). "Managing Across Cultures: The 7 Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset". Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  10. Hamminga, Bert "The Western versus the African Time Concept," accessed 2010-1-30 (this webpage article appears to be the author's synopsis of a discussion of the subject of time in John S. Mbiti's African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann 1969)
  11. "Caribbean Culture - Caribbean Time - Island Time". Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  12. "Progress and punctuality". Ghanaian Chronicle. Asia Africa Intelligence Wire. 17 May 2004. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  13. Murphy, Peter (8 October 2007). "Gives new meaning to getting a house 'on time'". Reuters. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
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