One phenomenon that I have been warned about multiple times before arriving is the concept of “Africa Time”. Africa Time is the common expression used to refer to the fact that many people in African cultures do not adhere to strict scheduling. People will often show up at least 20 minutes late to meetings or gatherings and it is considered extremely normal. This is something that I had experienced, to an extent, in Asia during my semester abroad but not to the same extent.
Throughout my time in Livingstone, I have been facilitating several sessions for a film festival put on for local young filmmakers. The first session began twenty minutes late, after many technological issues setting up the projector. This was frustrating but I was not surprised. The second session that I participated in was a full-day workshop on Zero-Waste and the environment. This workshop was supposed to include sixty people from different NGOs, government councils, and the students from the film festival. When I arrived at 9:00, the time the festival was scheduled to begin, there was almost no one at the venue. The chairs still had not been set up and the cleaning staff was sweeping the floor. Participants waited outside until 10:30 and then the workshop finally began. Even though we began an hour and a half late, we were still missing thirty of the participants. This was because the president had dropped into Livingstone unexpectedly and the government officials could not attend our workshop. Because the workshop began late and there were far less people, we did not get through almost half of the material and were not able to engage with important stakeholders in the community.
The last workshop I led was also supposed to begin at 9:00 and when we arrived, similar to the zero-waste workshop, there was almost no one there. This time, we waited until 11:00 and there were still only 2 people in attendance. The 17 students who had signed up did not show up and so our panel had almost no one to speak to except for ourselves.
Instances like these ones are very commonplace in Zambia and, from what I have heard from many people I’ve worked with, you might have to hold three meetings before you can get everyone you need together in one room. With a culture like this, I found it extremely difficult to get things done. It is not only inefficient, but extremely discouraging, when the most important people do not show up to a meeting that you spent all your time preparing for. We discussed it at-length when people did not show up to our last session and many of the community leaders believe that this is one of the reasons Zambia is so behind in making progress. It is something that I believe begins in school, as children do not have proper penalties for showing up late or not getting their work done. If they had spent their entire lives showing up on time, it is likely that the film festival students wouldn’t have missed their workshop.