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Opinions of Monday, 13 August 2012

Columnist: Samuel Paulos

African Time

Let me share the following quotes before I go into my main message.

“One thing you cannot recycle is wasted time” from an unknown person

“The bad news is time flies but the good news is you are the pilot” by Michael Altschuler

The messages are meant to say “don’t waste time, use it purposely, wisely and smartly”

Time is global and most precious and expected to be respected as such across the board except in Africa. Those who believe in this norm and having observed the way we value time must have decided to look at Africa from a different perspective when it comes to time keeping. Therefore it is not difficult to assume that the term “African Time” must have come from that line of thinking.  The translation of that though not written but spoken is “Africa is always late or slow”

That branding seems to have been accepted as a norm. I came to this conclusion because of the way we treat time be it in our personal, public or professional life.  I doubt also if there had  been any serious attempt to defend our behavior with legitimate reasons if any nor the courage to step forward  and  accept the weakness  publicly  and suggest corrective measures.

I am of the opinion that be it good/bad habits, culture or practice is initially learned either at home or school.   A country or a nation is made up of individuals who come from these homes or environment.  Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that a country or a nation is a reflection of its people and citizens. If every individual respects time or his/her obligation at every stage of life, there is no doubt we will be branded as people, country or a nation of substance.  This helps us to stand tall in any crowd and claim how reliable and credible society we are.

One of our core social responsibility is to be accountable for our time vs. our commitment particularly in our professional and public life.  If respecting time earns you good reputation; give you more money and helps you become more effective; efficient and trustworthy, what more justification do we need than this to lead a decent, peaceful and responsible life.  

Old habits are difficult to change and unfortunately, it can be inherited. As adults, we owe it to our children or the next generation not to make them victims of our old but wrong habits. The habit of not respecting time and promises is for sure a liability to any society.

If I am allowed, let me throw some light on the possible areas of corrective measures.

  1. A practice can become a habit or culture if it is learned early and consistently. Therefore, the educational institutions should make extra effort to find ways and means to help children at school understand the value of time, acquire the knowledge and practice the same in their daily life or chores.  This will go a long way to make the next generation become much more serious and responsible in regard to utilizing time effectively, qualitatively and responsibly.
  2. People learn and improve by examples or following role models. It could be a teacher, a nurse, doctor, lawyer, manager, chief, journalist, footballer, administrator, judge, prime minister or a parent, leader, etc. If these examples of people are seen respecting time not only theirs but of others, the chances are high that others will follow their example.
  3. Organizations and Corporations being major employers and conscious of deadlines, profits and image, it is to their advantage to invest resources and train their employees particularly on “Time Management”. The more the knowledge, the better the results. There is a direct relationship between time, quality and cost. When the three are kept in good balance and consistent, it is almost sure that these organizations and corporations will continue to register more profit, enjoy good image and maintain good credibility for meeting deadlines.  The other important benefit is when pressure and stress become less and less or minimized, staff morale, motivation and retention, no doubt goes high.
  4. There is a lot of money being spent on Good Governance particularly in Public Institutions. If not already done so, it is advisable to divert part of that money towards training particularly on “Time Management”.  Accountability and Transparency does not apply in the case of cash transaction only but also how effectively and qualitatively time was utilized thus the need for training.  Training is meant to be a means to a good end. Therefore, to serve that good end, it has to be learned, practiced, tested and proved in action.
  5. It will also go a long way if the media plays its civic role by educating the public about the importance of time keeping and the consequence if otherwise.  Even one message a week on the local news papers plus a group discussion on the TV/Radio once in a while will make a difference.
  6. There are at least four occasions I know for which people respect time.  They include going to church, catching a flight, a pay day and a meeting where money is exchanged.  Countless of people die every day due to accidents caused by rushing to a meeting place or airport for which they are already late. It is not only their life they put in danger but others as well.  Church is a respected place where one picks life lessons. Therefore, Pastors being influential, it will do great service to the public if they were to spare some time and preach the importance of time keeping and promises.
  7. Self initiated effort to transform one’s own attitude towards time keeping/management is a move in the right direction, in fact highly regarded.  One can undergo through a given program like To Do List or prioritizing events according to urgency and importance and keep on with this practice until it becomes a habit.
  8. The mother of all is to spend “quality time” with loved ones particularly children and elders.  As one never knows for sure what will happen tomorrow, the less one postpones important interactions like this, the better.  The benefit that can be derived from such experience is immeasurable and priceless.   




Nobody will prove me wrong if I say, we Africans are very proud people.  Unfortunately, we often use that pride wrongly. We feel by keeping people wait for us for hours will earn us more respect and honor. We are completely wrong, Pride and honor are earned. It is a gift we get from others in response to our good deeds and the way we treat others. Sometimes, we don’t even have the decency to call back and say I am sorry for being late. Why, because if we do that, it makes us look small.  By doing that we are committing double mistakes. If we promise to be there on time, we should be there. If not for any reason, we have to call immediately and ask for an apology and give specific time when we will be there.  It feels good to do that and it will also earn us a lot of respect. 


I want to leave you with two challenging questions:-

  1. Do we have the moral ground as Africans to challenge the negative branding that we maintain for “not respecting time” objectively?
  2. If you were to mark or grade Ghana or the people on time keeping between 1 to 10, where would you place it?


The last quote “A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life” Charles Darwin

Peace, Unity and Prosperity to Ghana.


Samuel Paulos is the former country director of Plan Ghana and Director/Founder of Gateway 4 Youth Foundation. A youth focus NGO with the objective to create opportunities for young people in deprived communities. For more information send a mail to:

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