Tanzanians are not lazy.
I bring this up to push back at my fellow Tanzanians, specifically “educated” young men who offer unconstructive and therefore unwelcome views on Twitter that paint us all as inferior to every other nation they can think of.
Guys, if you are trying to impress President John Magufuli, remember: He doesn’t do social media.
Those of us who do, however, do not appreciate your flatulent statements. Now, if you meant to talk about the Tanzanian gift for passive resistance through malicious and deliberate time-wastage, that’s a whole other political discussion and you have no business giving away our Machiavellian secrets to the rest of the world.
A brilliant classmate in secondary school wrote a poem about the concept of European time being introduced into African societies that stuck with me.
Through the experience of a woman carrying her load of crops to market to sell, stopping to admire flowers and greet friends along the way, she questioned what the clock had contributed and taken away from us.
Nobody loves a tightly controlled timetable more than the Catholic Church. At the moment you, yes you, are using the Gregorian calendar named after Pope Gregory XIII who helped systematise what was really a collection of mildly chaotic methods of keeping time.
The Fifth Administration of Tanzania is attempting to Gregorian Calendar us into time-keeping discipline. If we are going to embrace the idea of discipline, I can see beautiful things happening for us.
These days if you need to go to a government office to get some service, the likelihood of officials being at their desks when the office opens has shot up significantly. Forms that are filled will be processed in a timely manner.
I even hear that our port has become more efficient, praise be, and the cheerful chaos of Dar es Salaam is visibly losing ground to serious-faced folks who talk about “effectiveness” and “efficiency.
All very pleasant…up to a point. The reality is that we live in a dual world.
My colleague’s poem stuck with me because she juxtaposed what has come to be called African Time with the colonial obsession with taming, controlling and micromanaging those they subjugated with their whalebone corseted “scheduling.”
Pope Greg’s calendar is useful for co-ordinating international air travel and doctor’s appointments, but it does not have a monopoly of the concept of time.
African Time is the moment you take to greet your shopkeeper, the cup of tea you offer a visitor, the 20 minutes out of your commute to visit a friend’s relative in hospital, being five minutes late because you gave your neighbour a lift to that bus stop slightly out of your way.
It is knowing not to interrupt an elder’s recounting of his youth. It is escaping to have a long lunch with a friend by the beach because that’s relaxing and will end up saving you money for blood pressure medication down the line.
Tanzanians are not lazy. We are simply… pragmatic about the joys of living. Just like the Spaniards who take afternoon naps and the Cariocas who casually visit the beach whenever the mood strikes them.
And I hope we continue to be exactly like that in the face of the grinding march of ever-standardising time.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]