Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chinese Efficiency Versus 'African Time'

Chinese efficiency versus ‘African time’

Sunday, 20 January 2013 00:00
Francis Mupazviriho
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

Today, Africa is in the midst of the Look East policy bent on establishing social, economic and even political co-operation among a plethora of synergies that have been considered for the Sino-Africa relations.

The Sino-African relations have transcended the government to government (G2G) relations as they have equally spilled into the business divide and academic institutions offering Chinese programmes. Churchill and Roosevelt high schools are among the learning institutions that have been offering Chinese lessons in the last few years.

Last December, the University of Zimbabwe, along with the Suez Canal University, won the Confucius Institute of the Year Award, which demonstrates the increasing synergies between Africa and China, even at academic level.

Apart from cultural synergies, the Look East Policy in Africa has significantly been deep-rooted on the commencement of Chinese infrastructural projects on the continent.

In Zimbabwe, the construction of the National Defence College and the Nechirasaka Complex in Chiadzwa is enough testimony.

In the United States — the 2 050-foot-long bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland on the other side of the bay is being built by the Chinese.

This order continues in Brussels, New York and London, among other Western metropolises.

With such a legendary resume of construction, the Chinese have extended their activities to the US and Europe, largely reeling from the effects of the global financial crisis.

In a bid to reflect on Chinese activities in Africa, a lot of scholarly work has been committed on the suitability of the Chinese model in Africa and even the political connotations of the Look East Policy.

In Zimbabwe, the calls for the inclusion of the yuan (Chinese currency) in the multi-currency regime and the misunderstandings over the quality of Chinese products have also gained currency.

Congolese academic and doctoral candidate at the School of International Relations at Perking (Beida) University Antoine Roger Lekongo and Nigerian academic Dr Chika Ezeanya, among many other African scholars, have led the academic discourse unpacking the Look East policy.

In most circles, China’s growth has been linked to its whopping 1,5 billion people, its technological might, academic research in all disciplines and the vibrant policies initiated by Chairman Mao.

Though realistic the discourse has been, the untold story has been that the growth of the Dragon has been greatly shaped on its utilisation of time, starting from 1949 when the Chinese flag was raised.

China’s growth was initiated long back in 1953 when the short five-year plans began.

With agriculture then as a locus of the Chinese economy, the growth of backyard industries equally materialised in the early phase. The 10th plan (of 2001-2005) sought to achieve an annual economic growth rate of 7 percent.

As I write, China is in the middle of its 12th Guideline (of 2011–2015), which, among many goals, seeks to achieve an urbanisation rate of 51 percent.

The New Chinese president, Xin Jinping, is, therefore, a disciple seeking to further elevate China through punctuality, pragmatism and following a strict methodological procedure of “Chinese socialism with market characteristics” as former president Hu Jintao did.

Africa’s undoing lies in perfect policy pronouncements sometimes unmatched by action and, hence, the “African Time” becomes a nomenclature to explain the nonchalant attitude towards work.

This has inflicted psychological warfare to the African organisation of his social life. The Harare City Council, for example, seeks to ensure that Harare becomes a world class city by 2050.

Has this been backed by a set of plans and time adherence for its fulfilment?

Today, the same China, once described as a “hell hole”, has leapfrogged the Japanese, thereby claiming the world’s second largest economy position after the United States.

China is tipped to outpace the United States in 2020 and its living standards in Guangzhou, among other cities, have become far much better than those in the United States.

Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and other “new boys” developing at their unprecedented rates have equally mastered the art of time. Africa’s undoing is its conceptualisation of the “African Time”, which is a relaxed attitude where being late is glorified to normalcy and being early has been relegated to abnormality.

Symptomatically, tardiness has become so endemic in our institutions and this has made it imperative to uproot this disease which is a curse to African development.

The Chinese-built complex adjacent to the National Sports Stadium is enough testimony to the time-precision factor as a model for growth.

A few months ago, there was nothing and today the site houses the siheyuan-structured hotel. Siheyuan are a historical type of residences commonly found in China. In their lines, they form the hutongs which are lines of the latter.

Motorists and commuters bubble into a crescendo of remarks about the frightening speed at which this project was constructed.

In this vein, Africa needs to extricate itself from the “African Time” slumber if it is to master the art of collective progress.

For how long shall we have projects meant to last a year lasting 10 years, or never getting done?

At funerals, weddings or even churches, there is a high chance the moderator will say we are now running late and we have to cut our speeches.

The order continues in our churches, our schools and social gatherings. But it would seem the “African Time” disease affects well-known people more than ordinary souls.

You invite them for a function which they are supposed to grace and sometimes they deliberately come late to make a strong statement of how important they are, oblivious to the fact that they come well in time for the closing remarks.

We have become socialised to believing we are genetically predisposed to being late.

Those hit hard by the disease are quick to holler how one is trying to become “like the white man” when they are punctual.

We cannot overcome with professionals who go to work in time for tea only to leave and never come back at lunch. Often, secretaries fill the void left by the managers and when you inquire when Mr or Mrs So and So is coming, you are given excuses.

And the culture of leaving sentences half done at the tick of the clock! Often this lot is ever united when it comes to raising salary perks as opposed to delivering results.

Nigerian academic in Government Studies at the University of Phoenix (in Texas) Dr Bedford Nwanueze Umez, however, sees the African Time as “selective punctuality”.

According to Dr Umez, Nigerians in Houston Texas only arrive on time when invited by other races and are always late at events, sometimes deliberately doing so, to make provisions for the “African Time”.

In 2013, Africa needs to understand the value of time which has greatly been the lynchpin of China’s frightening growth. This will bury this cadaver called “African Time” and we will overcome.

--Francis Mupazviriho is a second-year Political Science student at UZ.


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