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OPINIONS & ANALYSIS - Ghana be on time... maybe

Aug 15, 13 - Comments

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Related to the subject of "Launch of Ghana On Time - GOT initiative" posted in the News section, here is a post from an Australian in Ghana in the Ghana Maybe Time blog (July 15, 2013). 

Ghana on time… maybe.

There’s a well worn joke in Ghana that goes something like this: “We run on the GMT” “Greenwich Mean Time?” “No, Ghana Maybe Time”.

GMT is a reference to the mysterious geographical curiosity which makes almost everyone who lives near the intersection of the Meridian and 5-11 degrees north almost always late. Ghana, as a country, has turned the craft of being fashionably late into Haute Couture.

I’ve been to one meeting where half of the members of the board, which called the meeting in the first place, were more than an hour late. The other half weren’t late because they did not turn up at all. I’ve been to a wedding which did not start until three hours after we were advised to arrive. I’ve sat on a bus for two hours before it moved an inch.

Part of the reason is a different perception of time all together: there are no timetables for a bus, it departs when it is full; lunch is served when the food is cooked; a party starts when most of the people have arrived. Try and ask for a more specific time frame and you will receive a blank look. The problem lies in the clash between this perception of time and that of the developed world, which Ghana is pushing so hard to be a part of.

There are plenty of excuses on offer from those who are running late – some of them valid. Traffic, particularly in the capital Accra, is terrible and also very unpredictable – sometimes it will take 30 minutes to get to a place, at other times an hour and a half. When it rains, sometimes the roads get so flooded and full of pot-holes they are unsafe to drive on. On the other hand, some people give the excuse of “rain” at the slightest sign drizzle. “I’m in bed because of the rain, it’s cold” one of my friends told me sleepily when I rang her at the time we were supposed to meet. Ghana is five degrees north of the Equator. It was at least 25C outside.

When it comes to working, constant power outages and extremely slow internet speeds are a real challenge. Food poisoning – one of the favourite excuses for chucking a sickie in Australia because no one will ask questions when the answer involves bowel movements and you can turn up to work looking perky the next day – is actually a pretty legitimate reason in West Africa. So is Malaria.

Every now and again someone gets annoyed enough to try and do something about the GMT phenomenon. The Dutch – who, being from one of the most efficient nations in the world, must feel like GMT was invented as a special kind of punishment – recently had a bright idea for fixing it.

The Ghana On Time Initiative will apparently offer special pins for people to wear to signify to others that they respect time. It will also dish out awards to public figures who are regularly on time.

But it’s certainly not just foreigners who struggle with the GMT. Ghanaians, who recite the joke at every opportunity, are constantly complaining about it. At one meeting I went to the Ghanaian organiser asked everyone to take a moment to pray that they would all be on time to the next meeting. Talk about passive aggressive.

Personally, I’m getting used to the new time zone. The trick seems to be to chill out, presume everyone will be at least 45 minutes late and bring something good to read in the meantime. I’ve even horrified myself by turning up a little late to a couple of appointments, but I think people were more annoyed the times I turned up early. GMT might even explain why it’s taken me more than two months to get around to writing my first blog post. I’ve been sucked into the vortex.

Anyway, I’ve gotta go – I’m running late.


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