BY KENYATTA OTIENO
I believed I am a good timekeeper until I met my wife. I am the type who will arrive on time and once in a while factor in the ‘African Time’ and arrive ten minutes after the stipulated time. Many times I still arrive well before other people. When my wife who is always in time came into my life, she reminded me that if I arrive at the agreed time, I am late, fifteen minutes earlier is on time. Recent experiences with keeping my cool when several people have stood me up have made me look at keeping time more deeply.
I remembered something I read in John Kiriamiti’s bestselling novel, My Life in Crime. Kiriamiti said that if he agreed with his gang to meet and raid a bank at a specific time and something happens that delays them then he calls off the operation. That’s a sign of bad omen. Another person who came to mind is Rwanda President Paul Kagame, the intimidating, efficient and ruthless man does not entertain lateness especially in his cabinet. A friend of mine was once involved in a road accident in Rwanda. He was surprised when a policeman took their details and casually asked them to report to the police station at eight the following morning. He got there half an hour early and found all the parties involved waiting for him.
What is the motivation behind being time conscious? Our leaders like to make grand entry hours after the time they said they will show up yet Kenyans still cheer them. Slowly we have equated lateness with importance, high office or grandeur. We also offer people in influential spaces a lot of latitude when it comes to time keeping. Coupled to the tired maxim of; this is Africa and no hurry in Africa- then keeping time becomes as foreign as snow in Africa. Why should we keep time if by the end of the day what needs to be done somehow gets done?
Time appears like an infinite resource but once it is lost it cannot be recovered. The premise that there is always time never takes into account the fact that once lost you must steal time meant for other things to compensate. Every person taps into time in his own way but you must plan with the contingency of factors beyond your control. The problem comes when you have to work with people who have no sense of time. Even if you are the type who keeps time, you have to move at the speed of the slowest member of your team.
I have come to the conclusion that keeping time is about honour and respect more than personality or factors beyond our control. I asked a friend why he had come in well before time for a meeting we were attending and he told me he was taught to keep time by his mentor. Though he said he finds it frustrating that he can do nothing to people who confidently walk into the office one hour after the stipulated time. “Is this a Kenyan thing?” he asked me.
“What would you do if President Uhuru Kenyatta summoned you to State House?” I asked him instead of answering his question directly. “I know I will be hovering around State House three to four hours before the stipulated time.” I found myself answering my own question. Two hours to the agreed time, I will be at the gate, whether I have a car or not, or traffic piled up in Nairobi as it happens sometimes. I will have no excuse; I will meet the President at the agreed time. The motivation here is the respect I accord the office of President even if I have misgivings about his presidency.
Another example is a job interview or first day of reporting to work. Everybody will keep time even if it is not in their nature. The motivation is more to impress and uncertainty in regard to repercussions of lateness than self-drive. As soon as one settles, familiarity creeps in pregnant with contempt. We decide to get in line and flow with everyone else, throw caution to the wind and let things roll as they want to.
This is why I ruled that it is an oxymoron for Africans to claim to prescribe to the African legend of honour and respect for each other and approach life with laissez-faire maxims of individual freedom and self-regulating norm of nature. The responsibility of freedom is honour which demands respect for self and others. A person of honour will keep time no matter what happens, there is no room for excuses.
The biggest culprits are the millennial who do not want to be tied down with structures. We live in the age of creativity and people working from home, which do not have time constraints. As I said earlier, freedom is never absolute and the constraints require a higher level of time management. There is no substitute to proper time management. If you see a successful man, you have definitely seen a good time manager. It is time Africa changed this culture of not keeping time because time waits for no man.
Writer is consulting hydrogeologist and a commentator on social issues