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One of the big areas where Ethiopians lag behind from other nationalities be it ‘Ferenjis’ or other Africans, is in the usage of time. Time is not seen as a valuable commodity here. But the Ferenjis have realized that it is just priceless. The writer surmises that this is not a new subject but wants to highlight some aspects.
In the business-driven world that we live in money compels people to take extreme risks. But everything is limited within a time frame. That is why people applaud facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg for being the youngest billionaire on earth right now; he achieved more in less time. That is ideal in anyone’s life. The little 9 year old that enters university is called a child prodigy, just like a 45 year old high school student is a recluse.
This is an expression that is used to explain how much in low esteem time is regarded by native Ethiopians. It expresses the tendency not to come on time. It warrants being late for at least a quarter of an hour.
Once, I interviewed an actress for a role she was to play in a short advertisement. From the very beginning she acted ‘weird’ by asking how many times the ad will be screened. I explained that the ad will be the property of the company we were commissioned by and that they can air it whenever they want to. Actually, this actress had a point, as it is practical to charge by the time range in which she will appear to the public (on the Ad). But that is not yet customary in Ethiopia and that is exactly what I explained to her. Anyway, she agreed to the terms. But on the day of the shooting, she just didn’t show up. We assumed that she didn’t want the part for the above mentioned reasons. But guess what? She showed up 2 hours later, after the ad was filmed. Yet, this incident helped me realize or note that ‘Habesha Qetero’ is not confined to Habeshas, but has committed followers, especially in the Art field all over the world. To be eccentric, not uphold values, revolting against tight schedules etc. Maybe we Habeshas want to show that we are on top of things by not coming on time. Maybe that is why we are 7 to 8 years late on the calendar.
Early to Bed, Late to Rise
At 7am in the morning (and even before that), in Nairobi the roads are packed with cars. In Ethiopia 8:15 am seems to be the time when the roads start to become packed. This shows that many people adjust slowly and the pace is quite slow here. I am a late sleeper and am usually amazed how many lights are out at 10am in the evening. I live in a condominium and see that at least 60% of the lights are out by that time. So why are not people waking up early?
Nege ‘Tomorrow’ culture
Some people tend to want to just see the day through, without doing something exhausting or doing anything at all, if possible. So when anyone comes, then it is ‘Nege’ or tomorrow or ‘Behuala’, later. One of the problems here is that even if most employees or people are good the rotten apple will rot the system. The bureaucracy is so tiring that many employees just say ‘come tomorrow’ when that thing can be done immediately. Due to this fact, organizations can be real pits of time and energy.
Cost of time
One funny thing in Ethiopia that clearly shows that the value of time is cheap is to look at the price tag on labor costs on any project. Equipment and skills usually fare high in budget. I work on budgets for one reason or another and time is usually not even budgeted. Even when owners of companies calculate profits (internally at least) many miss out the time that it took their employees to work on projects.
I have seen some project management software that were implemented and these are very good systems which allow you to see who spent what amount of time on a certain type of work. Yet they are a bit inhuman and can face pretty stiff resistance not to mention the fact that one can always exaggerate what one has done. People don’t usually like someone sniffing around or standing at their back, even if some or many of them actually need that, so they will do their job. This software is that sniffer. But it is the employee who has to fill in what he/she has been doing all day. When implementing this system it will be easy to see at what pace work is being done. It will be easy to calculate the time spent and cost incurred in doing a certain task or a series of tasks.
Work More, Get More
On the other hand, I noted that a person who acts like he/she is working and takes a lot of time is usually paid better than the one who fixes the problem easily. So this is a case where time spent on something is given more value rather than the other way round. People tend to attach value for the time spent on the work with the money that deserves to be paid.
This tactic is what car mechanics usually employ to charge more. They spend a lot of time on vehicles that need only a touch to fix. Then they get paid more. It is Ironic! But the owners are also to blame as owners are loathe to pay much for something that takes minimal time to fix. There may be truth in this, as easy problems are solved quickly and difficult ones take time. But this is not always so. There are exceptions. But these exceptions are treated under the rug.
Contracts and their implementation
In many organizations in the country most projects are not finished on time. The time frame seems to be included just for the sake of including it or because it is mandatory. But it is never kept. I am sure any manager abhors the effort to finish things on time. That means literally quarrelling with everybody. ‘You can’t take on the world by yourselves’ is the consolation verse that one may come up with in the end. That is unless that person acts ruthlessly against any such discrepancies. Even then the client, who is a sort of king, thanks to the modern marketing theories, really delays projects at his/her whim just because he/she is paying the money. Another solution here is to make the client pay for the delay. But fear of losing the client will usually weigh over the manager and prevent him/her from taking this appropriate line of action.
I think the above examples suffice for the time being. But the writer of this article will appreciate it if you can email some similar stories that show how time is inappropriately used at the following address: [email protected]