The Gap

African time: Meaning and reason for it

Definition, reasons for African time

If you live in Africa or have visited Africa for one thing or another, you must have heard of the term ‘African Man Time’. I am sure you have also heard people say, ‘I don’t want African Time at my event’. The question is, what is African time? In this article, we will talk about the African time mentality and the reasons for it.

I remember while growing up that I always wanted to be punctual at events. But it was always met with funny expressions from my family and friends. ‘Why are you going so early, are you in charge of cleaning and setting up the venue?’

The perceived cultural trend in Africa and the Caribbean toward a more relaxed attitude to time is known as ‘African time’. This term is used negatively when it comes to appointments, meetings, and events. 

This includes African countries’ more leisurely, easygoing, and less rigidly planned lifestyles than the more clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries. As a result, it resembles time orientations in other non-Western cultures.

What is African time mentality?

No ill habit is arguably more revered in Africa than African Time. Of course, because we cannot control external factors such as traffic and family situations, arriving on time every time is unrealistic, but in Africa, it has become the norm.

There is a saying that time is money, African time is somewhat more squandering based on many considerations. Many events in Nigeria begin hours late and last for many hours. Although the Western culture is hardly guilt-free, most people are only a few minutes late at most.

Not only is African time widely accepted, but being late is also considered “cool”. Walking into an event an hour or two late to create the impression of a hectic schedule or, as some Nigerians would say, ‘simply to show face’ is considered hip. Why bother if all you want to do is “present your face”? I willingly joined them because I couldn’t beat them.

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African time syndrome

The ‘African time’ syndrome has had a negative impact on daily activities such as how we operate our enterprises, prepare for business meetings, handle dates, and how students react to academic resumption dates and class deadlines.

This syndrome has embedded itself in our minds, and we no longer feel compelled to do anything. We discover we stall in getting out of bed, taking a shower, adding milk to our cereal, and making life-altering decisions.

The more I think about this African time syndrome; I begin to understand how it has impacted productivity and our lives. We achieve little or nothing in the best possible time because we stall everything we need to do and go late everywhere.

For instance, as individuals, we should realize that any time mismanaged causes opportunities to pass us by. Therefore, we spend more time, energy and resources on projects that should have taken less.

Maybe you lost your dear grandfather to cough because you did not take him to the clinic early enough, maybe that job could have been yours if you applied a day before the deadline, or perhaps you could have been the best staff at work if you arrived 30 minutes earlier than anyone else. These are just some examples of why keeping to time and avoiding African time is very important.

Reasons for African time

Some people are punctual because they don’t want to be late, others are late because they don’t want to be too early. Some people believe that arriving too early may make them appear desperate.

Other reasons for African time are:

  • Being early necessitates having nothing to do. To do any other project, the waiting time is concise; once you begin, the time is up.
  • The awkwardness of being early: Most people are uneasy while waiting. They may even believe that others are observing and judging them, whether or not this is true. Arriving a few minutes early gives you pride and confidence, but arriving too early makes you feel dumb.
  • Opportunity cost: Most people believe that there is a cost in going to events too early. They think that the time lost would have been used productively elsewhere.

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Causes of African time

When I was thinking about what could be the cause of the African time tradition, I realized that if the people involved in an event or program are not directly benefiting or have nothing to lose if they come at African time, they tend to imbibe the culture; however, if it is the other way around, you will see them at the announced time, and some will even arrive before the event begins. A typical example is a job interview or when the event is related to foreign countries.

In addition, I also discovered that some event or program organizers also strive to announce extra time so that people can arrive early. Although this may be due to previous bad experiences with people coming late to events, what about those who have chosen to arrive on time? This move will only deter them and force them to adopt the African time culture. When seen objectively, both parties involved have contributed to the spread of the African time syndrome.

Both sides are responsible for getting something done, and even if one refuses to cooperate, the other should opt to stay on schedule. They won’t have an option but to adjust to the proper thing if they see you do it repeatedly. Only discipline and commitment can allow you to do this.


This African time culture has a negative impact on us rather than a positive. If everyone could adhere to the stated time, it would be very beneficial, and the effect would be visible. Everything will run smoothly if the event planner or host announces the exact time and the participants arrive at the precise moment.

At the end of my seemingly endless maybes, perhaps you can reach your stated goals within the time frame allotted if you start doing things correctly and on time. “Always do the right things, at the right time, and in the right place,” is one of the quotations or rhymes that most of us grew up with. You’ll be surprised at how much you can do.

Indeed, we may change the meaning of African time from tardiness to punctuality, giving it a positive rather than negative connotation.

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Esther is versatile writer who thrives in writing top-notch long-form articles. She enjoys research and has an eye for details. She's currently a writer at BlackDot Media.
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