Time Management in Botswana

Written by Emilie Löfvenmark November 2013. Posted in Decision-making, Int. Skills

Time Management in Botswana

Being fashionably late is a concept we are all accustomed to, but how late is fashionable in Botswana and why? That is what I will try to examine in this article.
“Punctuality is the thief of time” are famous words by Oscar Wilde that Botswana really seems to have taken to heart. When it comes to time management, Botswana has a very different approach than many Western countries. Since that difference in time keeping is a well-known phenomenon, a relative of mine who started working there asked what timeline they usually abide by. The answer she received was that arriving 15 to 45 minutes late for a meeting is not frowned upon and an excuse is not necessary. As a rule, the meeting won’t start until all participants have arrived, however this can depend on the situation. In my relative’s experience, people tend to be more punctual if it is an important meeting and also if other participants in the meeting are high in the hierarchy. Botswana has a strong tradition where hierarchy prevails in its organisations and workforce.
There are several reasons, or at least contributing factors, as to why Botswana can’t seem to get things going on time. Even though the country has had tremendous economic growth and social reforms since they declared independence in 1966, it still hasn’t reached the level of many Western countries. Neither their infrastructure nor the transport system is on par with that of their Western counterparts, and this of course is a key factor when discussing punctuality. However in their book Into Africa: A Guide to Sub-Saharan Culture and Diversity, Richmond and Gestrin discuss how the differences in time management are due to cultural aspects. They argue that since many people in Africa have been living under very hard circumstances for a long time, that has resulted in a culture in which people don’t really have an inclination to plan ahead.
Botswana is a success story in terms of both political and economic stability in a region that has been plagued by power struggles and bad leadership for decades. The African culture is strongly influenced by the past and that is due to the fact that the past and the present are considered more important than the future, according to Richmond and Gestrin This has also impacted the structures in society. One example of this, which my relative recalls, is that when making a doctor’s appointment, instead of receiving a specific day and time, the patient is just given a day. Something that also struck her as quite strange in the beginning was that her co-workers would leave at noon to go to the bank and just not come back. This is due to the slowness in the system and the fact that a visit to the bank might actually take the entire day. Richmond and Gestrin confirm this practice and add that on occasion employees might not show up for work at all, without notice, due to family gatherings. This is mainly in conjunction with funerals, but not exclusively. This tradition is widely accepted and stems from the fact that the culture is very relationship oriented. Not even these events are exempt from delays: also great festivities such as weddings are notorious for being delayed by a few hours.
While the West is eagerly awaiting the day when Botswana and the West will be working according to the same clock, I don’t know how keen the Botswanans are on getting there. In the meantime, I suggest taking this Botswanan proverb to heart, and hopefully get some peace of mind: “It is better to walk than to curse the road”.