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Bert hamminga The Western versus the African Time Concept          version date 000309  Goto: Questions

matrass.jpg (29202 bytes)"Future" is a word that both Westerners and Africans know. I have learnt from the African philosopher John S. Mbiti (African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann 1969) how the African "future" differs from the Western one. Mbiti successfully explained it to me in his book "African Religions and Philosophy", because he took the trouble of learning the Western concept of time, and thus understood how to explain the African concept of time to Westerners. A very good result, deserving respect!

To Westerners, time is a set of stripes drawn on the tarmac that is on the road on which we drive. They believe to drive at exactly constant speed, so they think they know exactly when we will cross these stripes. There is one big stripe every hour, a small one every minute, a very small one every second, and so on. Westerners feel sure the road is straight, regular, and goes on forever. Unlike the Africans, their journey stops when they die, but dying soon is not a real possibility to most of them. Their agreements with each other about future deliveries and payments are very precisely drawn on this tarmac. If they fail to pay or deliver at the moment their machine of time has reached the agreed tarmac stripe they are in big trouble and probably loose their customer and all his friends. So, agreements made often cause Westerners to be very nervous.
Africans have no such unshakeable belief in the future. Constant speed over regular tarmac might be possible, but the car might as well break down, floods could take the road, and a relative might be met. Africans do not like to waste much time speculating about the future. The chance of it being what we expect is considered low. Why loose energy to such hypothetical considerations! Instead of hours and numerical dates, Africans traditionally rely on emotional marks of time, like when you were born, when you married, when you had you first child, when there was a war. But as far as the future is concerned these marks are still to be made, and the African typically considers his or her influence on that as small.

The difference between the Western mechanical and African emotional time consciousness is a highly instructive one: it explains a lot of intercultural differences and problems of intercultural contact in any kind of business. Of course, also Westerners experience emotional time. Important events in your life, say a new job in another town, a marriage, a baby "mark" your past in that some things will later be experienced as before or after this or that important event. The typical holiday experience is that after a few days you feel you left home ages ago, while upon return it feels you just left. In waiting for something time "goes slowly", in hurrying for something time "goes fast". The difference between Western and African time consciousness is that a Westerner asks: "when did your grandfather die". The answer is "15 years ago". The African asks "When was 15 years ago". And the answer is "When your grandfather died". What is the difference? That is far less obvious than it seems at first sight.

What time does is ordering events. You have before, simultaneously, and after. From a logical  point of view time is a function t(x) the time of event x. Westerners see this t(x) as a numerical function. For instance, I started writing this paragraph in 1999, the 9th month, the 9th day at 9 past 9. My spreadsheet Quattro Pro gives a decimal number to this point of time: 36412.38125. For normal usage, Westerners measure up to minutes, but in sports they go to hundreds, sometime thousands of seconds. For science they now divide seconds (using atomic clocks drifting apart only 3 milliseconds in 1000 years) in parts up to 9,192,631,770 (a number of full oscillations of the frequency of the radioactive cesium, the latest definition of a second). Westerners believe that time maps events on real numbers (they mathematically differentiate over time in their scientific models, which can only be done with continuous functions), though they measure in decimals. Traditionally Westerners measured in seximals, sometimes doubled to 12 (day), quadrupled to 24 (one day-and night cycle), and for months and years Westerners used to have numerous problems with leap years as long as they relied for time measurements on earth-sun-cycles containing 12.35 earth-moon cycles and 365.242199074074 revolutions of the earth around its own axis.

Why have time measurement more precise than the counting of days, and distinguishing rising from falling sun? What makes the need for "hours", "minutes" and even "seconds" felt? As long as work is done by slaves, who are not payed but fed, as it used to be done in antique societies like that of the Greeks and Romans, there is not much need for small time units. But when it comes to business contracts involving services the value of which is measured numerically in terms of some kind of money, amounts varying with time, minutes start to count. As soon as a society introduces money exchange, the need for minutes arises. To say: "Time is money", there should be money first! It is the numbers on coins and the use of coins to clear debts, that is economy, that forced humanity to give numbers to time.

One of the first measurements within the range of one hour was devised by a highly esteemed Roman prostitute. She dropped small bowls with tiny leaks to float in a larger bowl filled with water. The sound of the sinking small bowl touching the bottom of the large one was the sorry sign for the customer that his time had run out. That means he faced additional charges if he was happy enough not to be sent off to make room for a next customer with an appointment.

But if time is to be money it should be equal money everywhere. Thus it becomes necessary for the money economy to propagate the superstition that time runs at "equal pace" everywhere. Different instruments thought to measure time should yield equal results. They should be "calibrated". In the centre of power should be the centre of time. Everybody should yield. If you don't, you will be in trouble. The terror of time has begun. European man started bowing for sun-dial and sand-glass. Time calibrators were paid by popes. With money. Yet, the earth stood unmoved in the middle of creation, and everything turned around it, but that God had wanted time became unquestionable.
In Europe.
In general, the thing two persons need to calibrate time is a process that they believe will have the same speed wherever you see or start it (like seeing the sun's orbit from two different places or starting the flow of sand by turning two equal hour glasses). In the history of Western society, time standards were again and again abandoned, because the belief that the time process involved (sun and moon orbits, pendulum movements, electrical currents) where "perfectly regular" was shaken, due to the increase of the measurement preciseness. Every time a new standard was adopted henceforth supposed to be "steady", until the next disappointment.... What actually happened was a growth of preciseness in comparing the beginnings and the ends of processes, and the need to use the "best" unit of account. What is "best" to Westerners is that unit in terms of which the erratic "irregular" behaviour of other processes can be most conveniently and plausibly explained. That is why Westerners say one full turn of the earth around its own axis lasts around 24 . 60 . 60 . 9,192,631,770 wave cycles of cesium. That is why Westerners do not say that the wave cycle of cesium is around 1/ (24 . 60 . 60 . 9,192,631,770 ) full turns of the earth. Why? Because of the kind of business they wish to do on earth. For much of modern Western business, the movement of the earth is too irregular (tidal waves of oceans and the earth crust have some unpredictability and influence, even slightly decrease on average, the day to day speed of rotation of the earth) and its measurement too sloppy. Africans have different business, hence different priorities, hence deal differently with time. European cultural superstition is that time runs regularly, and the future points in time come near in the same regular speed as past points in time withdraw: exactly 1 second per second by definition. Traditionally, Africans do not believe this. Most specifically, Africans do not adhere to the Western dogma of cardinality of time that says:

The length of two events 1 and 2 is equal if:  time (of end of 1) - time (of start of 1) = time (of end of 2) - time (of start of 2)

And no Western scientist claims that this can be proven. It is a Western cultural dogma. There are a lot of good reasons why Westerners like this dogma, but these all have to do with what Westerners want, like winning wars and enslave other cultures with different concepts of time. Survival, under the present conditions on earth, seems to be a criterion under which the Western concept of time is one of the "best". But the circumstances may change. Sinking leaking bowls, Cesium time, nor any of their future successors to be crowned by Westerners as "time" can logically be a truth of nature.

About "cardinal" and "ordinal": if you count things you use cardinal numbers (like money, tanks and Western time). You use ordinal numbers if you merely want to indicate where (between which other things) units have their place in a succession (like the ranking in a competition  and African time). Thus, cardinal numbers you can meaningfully add and substract, ordinal numbers no not carry such meaning (rank number 2 and 3 in a competition are not "together 5").


The African interpretation of time starts thus: events occur in some order: there is "before" and there is "after". In African languages, there is a number of tenses that indicate roughly "how much" before, and how much after. There usually is a tense for "at that time", for "after that", for "a considerable time after that", and "a very long time after". That does not sound strange to a Westerner. He also has such rough ideas on events. But the Westerner's clock and calendar gives him the option of filing the event as having occurred at a certain numerical date-time. The Westerner deems that more "precise". He wants to have trains running on schedule and fly to the moon. Africans have different aims in life. They want to "live" their own way. Traditionally, Africans have no concept of historical progress: in every life of every person the same happens. There is no thrive to change things. They have another idea of preciseness: emotional preciseness. The past is a chain of events. It has its places that are marked in memory, just as when you travel far through an unknown area. You will remember the river crossed, the mountain pass climbed. In time, you remember your eldest brother getting his first child, your great grandfather dying, your harvest spoiled by torrential rains, a war. Those are the tops of the "hours" in the memory of the African. Between them are the minor events as "minutes". Westerners would say these hours do not have equal length. Africans are not interested at all in such considerations. By talking en passing over history orally to one another, they cut themselves a wooden past that feels like a comfortable  place well connected to the present. A history to rest upon comfortably. Not so Westerners, who run puffing after the time they created to be their master! The kind of conversational context in which you create and pass over to younger generations the history in a time framework in which history itself is the "clock", is dubbed "Zamani" (an abstraction of a Kiswahili concept) by Mbiti.

Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) writes her young Kikuju cook: "His memory for recipes was awesome. He could not read en did not know English, so cookbooks had no value to him, but he piled up everything ever taught to him, with the help of his own system that I never got hold on, in his unattractive head. He named the diverse dishes after some event on the day he had learned to make them, so he spoke of the sauce of the 'lightning that struck in the tree', and the sauce of 'the grey horse that died'".

As we noted before, Westerners did have considerable problems with the fact that a year is 12.35 moon cycles, resulting in the jumping up and down of Eastern in the West. No such a thing could occur in Africa. Relax! Everything is gonna be all right, don't worry, be happy. Africans just skip a month every now and then, or just do not count one cycle. Who cares! Different African communities may do so differently. No problem. Does the rain come always at the same time? Of course not. Does it come at the same time for all tribes? Certainly not. Why be more precise than the rain? African time is connected to nature, just  as Western time, but the natural processes and events chosen to relate to are the ones emotionally relevant to African life.

Hours, days, months, years. In Africa they are made to fit the human being. They are comfortable. If you want to make time comfortable, do not make equally long dead physical time units, but use your intuition. A good analogy is German versus Greek architecture: The Germans copied Greek temples. These German copies, it was noticed, looked like extremely boorish hulks. It took some time before the  reason was discovered: the real Greek temples are not built rectangular and straight. They are built elegantly: skewed to display elegance if seen from the places from where they were designed to attract most attention of the visitor. In the rectangular and straight German copies, to the human eye there is a shortage of space at one side, and a boring abundance at another. What the Germans did with temples, the West did with time. By straightening it, one moment Westerners have a time shortage (haste), another moment they have abundance (boredom). It is hard to find analogies to Western haste or boredom in Africa. 


Boredom, haste and stress are Western problems, not, Mbiti would say, of zamani, or how things came to be, but of sasa, what we have now and how to proceed. Boredom, hurry and stress are good things to start from in explaining African time to Westerners. We have to compare the Western linear dead physical time line (with "past", "future" and a perfectly regularly moving "now") with the African living zamani and sasa                        

In my neighbourhood in Jinja (Uganda, at the Victoria Lake) we were harassed by a solitary monkey. He was a sadist, killing our young birds for fun, not eating them. If we did not get up before light he would take our chicken eggs for breakfast. When he finally started to kill the puppies of the dogs he first seemed friendly to be playing with, we started calling him "Dutroux" and I went into ambush to catch him. He was too smart for me, though. Some tried to shoot him with a bow, but between two arrows he would reappear as if to say: that's fun, where's the next one? Also he drank from our tap, afterwards closing it as he had seen us doing. One time I could have caught him because he was frozen with surprise -awe, I hope- to see me leaving the shower naked. But this time I hesitated to grab him since that would probably have ended up with some stitches in my body (where??). I in one week of regular ambush, I failed to catch Dutroux but learned about time.
In ambush, I was never bored, thought I sat for hours. There is nothing else you can do, like reading a book. You are just sitting, resting, and listening. I gradually could infer from sounds of the branches and leaves of the different trees around us, the birds, and the dogs, were Dutroux was hanging around, and I started even to learn his habits, thus knowing whether he was likely to come my way. I was sorry to notice that Dutroux was starting to learn my habits too. As long as Dutroux was far, my head was down on the windowsill from which I ran my ambush operation. When he lied, sleeping in a tree at a distance, I slept as well. When I heard birds I woke up a little bit, just enough to judge whether I should wake up more. Then, if  birds would really started to chirrup, Dutroux would appear, my concentration reaching its full peak, Dutroux would inspect my trap, resist the tempting bananas inside, retreat to his favorite tree, and both of us would go back  to sleep.

The "ambush" type of waiting is traditionally well known in Africa. It is only one of the four types of waiting described in the table "waiting" below.   It falls under "living time". That  means that not a mechanical clock, but live events like the birds, and the behaviour of the monkey "measure" time. What your watch says is irrelevant. And it is classified as "tension", because it requires full concentration, at least readiness to full concentration at any moment. There are three more types of waiting to be distinguished: tension in dead time ("count down"), no tension in dead time ("train"), no tension in living time ("rain").

  Dead time Living time
Tension Countdown Ambush
No tension Train Rain


"Count down" is not so well know in Africa, but very familiar in the West. Suppose some race will start in 34 minutes. Everybody is nervous. The bodies of participants are ready to do what is supposed to be done, but....there is a clock. It says: start in 34 minutes. That does not at all seem to be a situation the human body was designed for: the adrenaline has been released, it tells the body to go, but the mind watches the clock and says: no! Still 34 minutes to go. That is a clear situation of stress. There are many more examples of "count down", like rocket launching, doing exams, etc..
"Train" refers to the situation, virtually unknown in Africa, that you finished what you were supposed  to do, ready to do the next thing, but this requires something that will only occur at a given point in dead mechanical clock time. So: you finished some job and you can go now, but your train leaves only in 34 minutes. Unless you are the smart type of Westerner who knows how to fill unexpected empty room in time, you will get bored. Boredom is an internal conflict of activity-wish coming up in a situation were no possibility for activity is seen. Boredom hence is another type of stress. Journals and mobile phones are popular not primarily because they procure "news" and "communication" but because they save people a lot of "train"-type of time-stress. They are (dead) time passing devices.
"Count down" and "train" highlight that the Westerner has to "fit" his activities in a dead mathematical time framework, and if he does not succeed, he will end up with shortage or surplus of   "time". "Ambush" has no such dead time-framework. It it one of the typical African states of being. Another one is "rain".
African countries have two rain-times a year. Many crops grow, flower and produce seed only in rain time. So when the rains start, you start digging. Rain is often "waited" for, because people start to run out of certain stocks of food they would like to refill. So, they wait for rain. Obviously, clocks are irrelevant here. Rain is no train. As a type of waiting, it differs from "ambush" in that no concentration is required. Rain just comes, you do not have to catch it. Hence I classified it as "living time, no tension". In Africa rain is waited for humbly, because rain is a gift from the living forces of nature. This also means that you will not start to dig the ground in anticipation of rain: the ancestors and spirits do not like their gifts to be counted upon and if you do so they might postpone rain angrily. While waiting for rain, sacrifice to spirits and ancestors is more likely to help you fill your store house than technical anticipation in the field.

Just across the Uganda-Kenya border, in the direction of Kisumu, a Luo rainmaker was imprisoned for failing to make rain (we can think his arrest might protected him from linching, and yield some windfall popularity to leaders). In March 1968, five Tanzanian rainmakers were arrested for making so much rain that the harvest was destroyed. That is how you deal with the whims of weather, rather than building drainage and irrigation systems. The latter strategy might even anger the rain controlling forces as a sign of distrust and of a wish to be independent of them.

Waiting, concluding, is a feature of both Western and African culture, but the African "non-clock" types of waiting do not involve internal conflicts causing stress. The same holds for hurrying. A well know basic type of hurrying in Western society is the deadline. A dead mechanical date-time is agreed and set. The process is partitioned and scheduled. Sub-deadlines are determined. Often big organizations with thousands of people are involved. Problems occur. Parts of the process get behind schedule. Stress all over. Departments accusing each other. Angry customers. Loss of money. Western life. Without a clear deadline, in the West things usually do not get more relaxed. Creating disposable dead time in an organization means creating opportunities. So without a deadline, the mode of operation will still be "race", dead time saving directed activity. "Records" are generally highly appreciated. This Western addiction to dead mechanical time has, in the rise of industrial market society, been sunk so deeply in Western culture that even leisure is filled with dead time games: TV games display participants running to achieve some result in a preset span of time, the clock ticking in the corner of the screen, for a big prize. Record hunting in all kind of sports is so popular that business people earn big fortunes displaying the events in news media to people who even enjoy identifying themselves with the contestors without participating themselves.
Africans can be fast too. Among them are, for instance, the fastest runners on earth. African criminals are, as far as my personal experience in Amsterdam, New York, Moscow and Kampala goes, faster robbers and stealers than Western criminals and African thief catchers are also faster than Western policemen. I dub the basic African type of  hurry: "catch" (since that is what you can do with prey, booty and thief). The main vital feature is again that in "catch" your watch (dead time) is fully irrelevant. "Catch" is a living time process. The process lives its own time. You are fully concentrated on the action, not aware of dead time. It ends once you catch, fail to catch, escape, or fail to escape.
Unawareness of dead mechanical time in "rain", "ambush" and "catch" is not some kind of deficiency. Quite the contrary: awareness of dead time would be a burden, it would disturb the process and often clearly would increase the probability of failure. Disregarding dead time is in these circumstances, to use a Western expression, rational.

Dead time Living time
Deadline; record Catch


What Africans have instead of Western dead time future is called "sasa" (an abstraction of a Kiswahili concept) by Mbiti. Unlike Western "future", it is not looking like a straight road ahead, similar to a past like a straight road behind. Zamani and sasa are two time perspectives in discourse. They differ radically from Western dead time past and dead time future. Moreover, unlike dead future time and dead past time, sasa differs radically from zamani. Zamani is the ordered sequence of the events that took place in the life of the world. Sasa is what is now, what are the needs now, and what to do now. Time and reality end now, the future is unreal. There is no future yet. It still is to be made by the interaction of all forces in the world. Once made, it belongs to zamani. Questions like whether there will be "time" in the future, what time their will be in the future, how much time their will be in the future are futile and speculative. If some natural agents could know or procure such things, they are certainly not ordinary living humans, and ordinary humans should not have the temerity to count on the fulfillment of expectations of phantasies they might have about it. It could even cause dangers by making such powerful agents angry. You should not try to subdue nature. You wait till nature gives you. And this "waiting"-attitude is, in Africa, generally rewarded by nature. You do, yes, but your action is reaction on what nature is giving to you: if the gazelle appears, you shoot. If the rain starts, you dig. To Africans the paradigmatic acquisitional event is something falling in your hands by good luck: a gift from the forces of nature. Having to work by itself already means that nature is not generous to you, and nature might have a reason for that! Having to work means that somehow you are on the wrong track, at odds with the forces of nature.

The future does not yet exist. It has to be made first! The future is not a dug maize field that needs to be sowed, because nothing is there yet. No digging, no field, nothing.

At the change of the year, Westerners are used to wish each other a happy new year. The typical African approach is to congratulate you for having gone, with the fortune that was your part, through the year gone by.

To Westerners, the future has been drawn beforehand, nicely straight with a ruler over...over what really? Western future time markers look like hurdles as seen by an athlete before the starting shot. Would not it be funny if suddenly at the starting shot an earthquake would carve a cleft over the running track? In African culture, you typically do not believe in hurdles until you touch upon one. If you can make an African understand the Western type of future he will probably deem any belief in it ridiculous, fatiguing, superfluous and dangerous. In his eyes, you 'd better spend your time in making the present, because that is the relevant issue. The present has to be made. Now this "making" of the present should not be associated with working. It has to do with social interaction, community life, and using the opportunities the day brings. So may be it is best to say that sasa is, or is coming about by, the interaction all forces of nature around your community and your community's attempts to profit from the opportunities revealed, or "given", to it now.
Time is not an eternal grid over which life runs regularly. Life itself is time. Time is the result of what all agents in the world do and how this interacts. That means there is no available "amount" of time. Time is "spun" by the forces of nature. The time web is made of living events. It is generally acknowledged that African societies are more relaxed and people seem to have "plenty of time".  That is a primitive Western way to state things, good for a start, but not good enough. For example, suppose an African ship builder agrees with another African to be paid half the value of a boat at  the moment wood, nails and strips shall be purchased en the other half at delivery (3). Westerners would interpret these agreements as about numerical points in linear time: action 1 at date-time point 1, action two at date-time point 2. Then, if at date time point 1 nothing happens, this is interpreted as "retardation", or "postponement" of action, and as a breach of the agreement. On second thought, which is already a better approximation of African reality, it seems to Westerners that Africans "have" time that can be "inserted" in the time line. And they seem to have oceans of it!

sasawest.jpg (17093 bytes)

                                Western "postponement" interpretation of African sasa interaction

To achieve full understanding of the situation, however, one needs to understand how Africans deal with one another in what Mbiti calls sasa:

sasa.jpg (10427 bytes)

To Africans the agreement of this example means something radically different: the expression of sincere friendship and the positive readiness to fulfill the wishes (not only about this boat, but generally!) of the other party. It is presupposed that the other party will have understanding for any pitfalls, pot holes and other interfering forces that appear on the bumpy road of time. That is, after all, what friendship means!

I myself have been seriously angry about paid and promised deliveries not realizing themselves. The African surprise about such anger is perfectly sincere. What is my problem? We're friends, after all. Don't worry, everything will be all right! Conversely, sometimes, when I simply forgot to pay leaving a friend's shop, no remark was made, no questions asked as to when I would come to pay.

Agreements are not seen as actions mapped on numeric date-times of which the nerve-racking obligation to meet them. No! Agreements are expressions of one's needs, one's capabilities and first of all: friendship. I say I could afford it, you say you could do it, we say we are friends. We both know that both of us are very tiny forces in a powerful nature that can set us aside in many ways. If one of us is set aside, we shall accept that, because that is what friendship means: when I fail to bring the money for the wood of my ship, the shipbuilder will not be upset. He'll wait. When the shipbuilder is late with building because he had to use part of my money to pay the doctor of his child, I will not be upset. I'll wait. If neither of us dies I am likely to end up with a boat (if not, I will understand). The schedule of payment will be different from the one we might have had in mind. The schedule of delivery, and even the construction and outfit of the boat might be different. We seek, as friends, our way through a changing world that we do not control.

 shipbuil.jpg (77386 bytes)
Photo:  Shipbuilder not wearing his working clothes, though five boats are unfinished.
None of the five commissioners at present has money for the parts needed to continue the building.
So he waits ("rain"- type of waiting, see text).

It is not at all a bad idea to compare an African business agreement with a Western marriage. You marry when you feel you will roughly get out of your marriage what you wish and expect, but you will not sign a paper on when exactly, for instance, the first, second, etc. baby should de delivered. That is the principle of limited sloppiness in the West. You trust that you will be able to live in agreement, without specifying to many details in your marriage document. And like a Western marriage, an African business agreement is for eternity....with often the same type of disappointment resulting.

As an example consult the 2005 pages of the dhow logbook (links marked " ") in Personal Vicissitudes, where the author is dealing with his relations with a shipyard while building his dhow (a traditional sailing vessel).

In Kiswahili there is no obvious correspondence to the western expression "I have no time". The closest you come is nilikuwa na nafasi bado ("I did not yet have the opportunity").

The power of "Nowing"; Hantu

As first explained by Kagame, space-time forces ("Hantu"), constitute one of the four fundamental noun categories in Bantu languages, (the other three being "person", "impersonal force", and "mode of being"). Modes of being, for instance are cold or beautiful. They are forces exerting power. A woman "beautifuls": she radiates the power of beauty bestowed on her by the forces acting on her. Thus water "colds". With Hantu it it likewise: if you deliver a boat, this delivery event "nows": a "now" power is bestowed on the event (more precisely, a "now-here" power). This new boat, a force, will start to radiate its fresh "here-and-now" power. This power has been transferred to the boat as a result of which it now starts "boating". As a shipbuilder you contributed to that, but only very little. You were sawing and shaping material already made by others. To do that, you used energy coming from food made by others, among whom incredible forces like rain. On yourself you are and remain nothing. Praise for the new boating force you share with just about everyone in the universe, blame for any shortcoming too.
Here's a category list of the many forces involved:

It seems almost safe to say that what "nows" is not up to you. As a result of its hypothetical nature, to Africans a certain future point in time seems further away than to a Westerner and less a thing to make a lot of thoughts about.

Waiting for the start of a play by the Ebonies in Jinja, I met a Ugandan sister who just returned from her first visit to London. I asked her: one Ugandan week, how many London weeks would it be. She immediately understood my question, did not think long and said: six. This would have tremendous consequences: it means that in one weeks hard work, a Ugandan suffers six times as much as a Londoner. If he is free for one week, he enjoys six times as much than a Londoner. If the number six would be a reasonable estimate, which I would be inclined to think, it would be very irrational for a Ugandan to work as hard as a Londoner, especially when you add that the Londoner feels sure about the future enjoyment of his working results and to the Ugandan the future is very unsure and hypothetical.

To a Ugandan as compared to a Westerner the present is larger and the future is smaller. Future enjoyment is more real to a Westerner and he is willing to work now in order to fill his future with enjoyment. This future is "big" to him, and he likes it to be filled with enjoyment. To a Ugandan, the same work, requiring the same number of hours, occupies his present, which is something very large. The sacrifice is very high. The reward, filling his future with enjoyment, is low, because his future is small. That explains why you do not see many rain gauges, proper sewage, lots of people sitting before houses that have roofs with unrepaired holes (in quite some African languages, "living" and "sitting" are denoted by one and the same word!). If you have money, you could save by living as if you were poor. If you are poor, you could save by living as if you were very poor. But you would suffer in your present, which is much bigger than that of saving Westerners, and enjoy in the future which is much smaller than that of the enjoying Westerners.

All this means that for an African to take it more easy in life than a Westerner is perfectly understandable and rational.

I personally profited from trying it.

Go to: Time in Business   Questions The Western versus the African Time Concept

[Planned additions:  #Africans: hurry, boredom, and timestress no, waiting yes.#future:planning, technical improvement and the end of times#]