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Is time really money?

This maxim, the origin of which is attributed to Benjamin Franklin[1], is known to all, and is commonly cited in various contexts since its appearance in 1748. Thus, it cannot easily be avoided to ask questions about its apprehension and its use according to different socio-cultural contexts or environment. Indeed, in industrialized societies, the notion of time is taken very seriously while in developing countries this is unfortunately not the case. In such case it is legitimate to consider that the non-adherence to the evidence of this saying may inexorably represent an obstacle or a challenge to progress.

It is said that in the traditional African universe time was perceived as “elastic.” This means that the notion of the exact time in appointments is absent, so that even today we hear “around noon“, “towards the evening“, between “10 am and 12 pm” etc. Hence the way to know the time was to observe the progression of the shadow through the movement of the sun and its contact with the roof of a hut or the foliage of a tree. As unrealistic or even absurd as this may seem, this empirical reading of time nevertheless facilitated the organization and programming of economic activities among our ancestors, even if this does not accommodate the accuracy of the ” clock’’.

A look at the names of different moments during the day in our traditional context confirms this. Indeed, it is observed that the choice of words to designate the different time references is inspired by economic activities (going and return to the farms), movements and cries of domestic animals (cows, goats, cock, dog), songs of birds, etc.

In any case, in a current business world in movement where the use of time is governed by the clock, with the speed of services supported by technological advances, it is clear that this way of considering and judging is not the kind to follow such pace. This is what led an African writer named Nocky Djedanoum for those who still remember the “Write by Duty of Memory” campaign to say one day in a conversation, and not without a sense of humor that “unfortunately this perception of elasticity of time is not marketable”!

Unfortunately, there are certain types of behaviors, attitudes that show us that many people are still caught up in this perception of time. This is to say that it is not uncommon to wait for an order in the restaurant for a long time, even hours, to see appointments deferred or canceled without notice, to spend a whole day around waiting to pass a job interview, to wait again and again for a meeting or a legitimate service, to travel from one district to another or from one province to another for a scheduled appointment and return home disappointed, etc.

Imagine that this irregularity is not the hands of the ordinary man, for this is observed even in public services, civil society organizations and more surprisingly, in private sectors where the purpose is the pursuit of profit. Indeed, even for a religious service, it often happens that believers wait outside for more than 15 minutes because the previous one did not end in time.

Some time ago the President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame, in his address at an event organized by the former RIEPA evoked a story of man who went to borrow a bull from his neighbor. Finding another neighbor who had gone there for the same reason, and after having greeted them, went straight to the point and asked for the bull which he obtained immediately, leaving his friend no choice but complaints expressing that he had come for the same reason (notwithstanding long moments of chatter). I myself was amused by this story and my colleagues told me that it had been popular in our tradition.

The good news is that Rwandans have always managed to face such enormous challenges that they do not intend to remain defeatist. Bye bye Nyakatsi (grass thatched houses), banning of plastic bags, smoking in public, compulsory wearing of seat belts in vehicles, helmets on motorcycles, etc., and this long list shows us that nothing is impossible for us.

What can we understand by Time is Money?

According to Robert Charles Lee, an English Lawyer: “Time is money” is a much easier way to explain the concept of Opportunity cost — because time is money! It means time is a valuable resource (because our time in this world is finite), so it’s better to do things as quickly as possible. Alternatively, spend time and effort on things that get the results we are looking for.

The phrase is usually credited to Benjamin Franklin, who used it in an essay (Advice to a Young Tradesman, 1748). The actual phrase was recorded in 1719 in the magazine The Free-Thinker.

However, the idea that “time is money” has a long history. The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs cites two earlier references. Antiphon (ca. 430 BC) of ancient Greece used “the most costly outlay is time.” Discourse upon Usury (1572) used “They say time is precious.”

“The hours of the day are finite and intrinsically valuable, and the most successful managers and entrepreneurs are those who not only properly manage their own time, but the time of others”.

Better news is that in the case of our country, our development strategy is inspired by its values of culture where nothing is possible without them. After so many years of serious impediments due to politico-historical factors that everybody is aware of, this dynamic is now being restored, and more research in this field can reveal the intrinsic values on which we can rely to promote change.

Indeed, if a European says: “I hurry so as not to miss the train”, the citizen of thousand hills simply says “I rush to save a cow that is engulfing”. After all, everything is only a matter of perspective or predominant economic activity.

What is more realistic and feasible?

Any consideration made, it is perceptible to everyone that time is actually money. The contrary conception can only lead to inveterate idleness, to the procrastinating. An attitude in itself hinders the development of individual, family, community, and a shortfall for the development of the country. Knowing that in entrepreneurship; the success is for the hard workers, that the time spent is not recoverable and therefore of the lost money, we can consider that thus we lose a lot of money in one way or another. So, would we have to no longer afford to lose it that way?

I am convinced that a little more effort in the change of attitude can reverse the trend by recovering this shortfall, thus boosting our economic growth and development. Would that be the first challenge? Let us remember what seemed impracticable in the eyes of pessimists!

  • Would there be in the African / Rwandan context any reference to the idiom that you know? (Stories, names, proverbs …?
  • What attitudes do we face today that go against it?
  • Which ones are in favor?


The Partner


About Mutimura Freddy

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