Zambian Culture

Is there really such a thing as Zambian Culture?

I do know for certain that Zambian Time is a real thing! My view is that Zambian Time is the cornerstone of our culture and/ or attitude to things. It affects, and sometimes determines, such things as ‘Work Culture’ and ‘Credit Culture.’

The concept of Zambian Time suggests that anything that must be done may be done in the doer’s time. If you set a meeting for 14:00 for example, in Zambian Time that must read something like, “any time after 14:00 but, before dark.” Expect your attendants to come in no earlier than 15:00 and even as late as 17:00. During the waiting period, if you do not get a call to cancel meeting all together (after you have already waited for some time), then do not expect a courtesy call to advise delayment.

What’s the cause? My inference is that we do not value time, Zambian Time is infinite. When something is done is not quite as important as that it is done. After all it is said, better late than never. I prefer the twist to this that says, never late is better.

I talk about Zambian Time because of its impact on both the work and credit culture. If you have ever lent money to a friend or family, you know that people rarely pay you when they say they will. Sometimes never at all. Unfortunately, this attitude spills over to formal lending as well…

“Good help is hard to find, even when you’re paying for it”

I think this quote was talking in the context of Zambian work culture. I remember chasing up on some information needed to complete a transaction for a Zambian company owned by, let’s call him, Mr. Z. After giving me the run around for several weeks, his “finance guy” committed to dedicating the weekend that followed to sorting through the required information. Came Monday, I went there expectant. The finance guy was actually indignant that I had believed he could work at the weekend. He told of how he needed that time off to spend with his kids and, “I can’t just be toiling for Mr. Z!” Needless to say, that transaction never closed. This guy was never committed to the process but was happy to string us alone wasting not only my time, but a growth opportunity for his employer.

There are several other examples where we have been given and still get the run around. In order to get things done in Zed, you literally have to be a pest, they say. That is not sustainable for healthy relationships. Maybe Zambians are too polite to tell you the truth and give honest feedback about status of your wait. But, when you really think of it, that behavior is the opposite of polite. Courtesy, is polite. We must always keep our collaborators up to date regarding anything we are working on together. Silence, waiting to be pestered and acting indignant when followed up on is simply rude.

In trying to make sense and find the root cause of all this, I have found that our civil service is the ultimate example of this Zambian culture. So, with Boma being such a large employer, could our attitudes all be stemming from there? If you do business with government agencies, you never get your feedback, documents or payment when due. In case of payments that may mean that you also fail to meet your own obligations when they fall due. And the next person also fails to meet theirs, and the chain continues, eroding the concept of time value of money. Which effectively erodes the value of time itself. Any money that must be paid may be paid in the payer’s time. Payment is made when the payer decides, not when due. And it will be the same amount, without any allowance for any time that may have passed.

What can be done to improve Zambian culture? Imagine all that we could achieve if we never worked on Zambian Time, but delivered consistently as and when expected. We need to reset our thinking, let us put back the value in time and make our culture great!