|You discover to your dismay and frustration when you do business in West Africa that the word punctuality is only a word and does not figure in the affairs of men and women, particularly those of the political species. Stereotyping is not one of my favourite games, but it looks as if the issue of punctuality is a problem for many of us who are black. No doubt that even in the United States of America, our brothers and sisters talk about COLOURED PEOPLES’ TIME, which is a reference to how somehow blacks everywhere do not seem to respect time.
The famous African-American writer, Richard Wright, during a visit to Ghana in the 50s lamented about punctuality in the newly-independent country. He was even the more surprised by the fact that whilst many people sported nice wrist watches, time was totally disregarded. In his view watches were literally treated as ornaments and not as time checks, which could have explained why many people were late for meetings with them.
It is over 50 years since Richard Wright talked about time and punctuality in Ghana, but the problem has grown worse although more people wear watches. Clocks and time reminders surround us in our homes, offices and public places, yet we never seem to be on time.
We are so used to ignoring time, so much so that any event or meeting scheduled for a specific time must necessarily start minutes and hours later.
I was once in this Central African capital for a conference which was scheduled to start at 9.30 am under what they termed, the Distinguished Patronage of the country’s Head of State. I was invited on many occasions as an envoy of my country in Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire to hundreds of events with the hour of commencement clearly stated in the accompanying invitations.
I made sure as an “obedient citizen of Africa and a diligent respectful diplomat” to be at the venue for these meetings and events in good time.
I need not have bothered myself to be that punctual because in all such cases the convention was for the so-called distinguished patrons to come late, many hours later, or where it was simply an assembly of ordinary people, for the organisers to state a certain hour with no intention of starting on time.
I have after so many experiences with the African’s total disregard for time come to the conclusion that our continent is bound to be a doomed one if we do not develop a new sense of time and punctuality; a clockwise approach to life and business which understandably can constitute one of the key factors to our total development.
Just ponder over these points as we look at the relevance of time to our development. There are some things in our development that we can control and some things that are beyond our control.
For today’s generation, our history which was determined by many factors like colonial rule is beyond our control. It happened way back in the past. We can only deal with current relationships with other countries and by taking advantage of modern technology, science and political developments, seek to shape the future.
Such was the complexity of the old paradigm and dynamics of colonial relationships that, dealing with the present often has its own challenges. However, what is positive about today’s Africa is that we are in charge, and being in charge means we should take many aspects of our destiny into our own hands.
There are many things that I believe we can control and control well because they are within our sight and realm of control.
Time is one factor of life we can control and manage to our advantage. There is no sense ,in my view, of using the whole day to organise an event when that same event can be organised in hours.
It equally does not make sense to me for an event to start several hours later when it can start on the clock as stated in the programme for the event. I do not see the point of getting late to fulfill an appointment one sets because appointments are set taking into account so many factors like time of travel and work schedule for the day.
And if you ever thought it was all only those in politics and the public service who hang huge clocks in their offices and put on elaborate wrist watches to remind them of time, the disregard for time and punctuality has become a bane and malaise of development which is suffered by even those in the private sector.
It is time for us as Africans to respect time in our affairs.