Cultural Note about Time

Cultural Note on Relative Importance of Time


One of the most common distinctions people make about the difference between East African culture and our own regards punctuality. Simply put, we tend to place a high value on it, and East Africans do not as a general rule. Meetings in East Africa, especially upcountry hardly seem to start on time.

            There is a real cultural difference here, but it’s also one that can be slightly overblown. After all, it’s harder to be punctual when you don’t own any time-keeping device, as is the case for many of our friends and partners. But the debate does offer an important window into the way the modes of economic production shape culture.

            In a subsistence economy, time is not money but in a true capitalist economy, it is. The economy of rural East Africa exists somewhere in between these two zones, a fact reflected in attitudes towards time: people recognize the importance of time, but as the legacy of subsistence culture remains strong, most East Africans still do not value it as much as we ought to.

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