Gambia: The Tyranny Of Breakfast: A Gambian Liability

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The human tendency of referring to change as a new start has held true yet again this week. A new era has dawned on Zimbabwe; “a new independence”, read one placard held high during demonstrations in Harare, against Mugabe. When the dinosaur Mugabe finally bid good bye, one man shouted ” a new independence” In a space of one year, the winds of change has blown right from Gambia to Zimbabwe and in both cases we the people proclaimed “a new independence”, this deductively means a fresh start. For Gambia, a new catch phrase, “Gambia has Decided” became a global phenomenon.

We Gambians, I submit to us, must be serious about one decision among the decisions of forging a new start, and that is, what have we decided to do about the tyranny of breakfast?  Breakfast has now proven to be the biggest liability for Gambia, and it is costing our economy in the tune of millions. The following are fundamental questions you might ask:

  • How is Breakfast costing our economy, thus the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Gambia?
  • What are the causes and cost of Tardiness/Absenteeism?
  • What are the consequences of Tardiness?
  • How can we reverse this liability to our credit; what is the solution?

Allow me to analytically traverse this issue with this analogy; Track and field super stars like Usain Bolt of the 2000s, Carl Lewis, and Ben John of the 80s, and 90s will tell you unequivocally that one thing that determines whether you win or lose a race, is the manner in which you start a race. Equally, economically speaking, economies depend highly on the manner in which daily production begins. Productivity and performance are a function of time. In a nutshell, we do not need an economist to tell us that there is a correlation between a timely start of a day’s work, and productivity.

From this reasoning, breakfast is causing significant economic pressures on Gambia’s economy, in that, I venture to say that we are the tardiest workers of the 21st century, and unraveled in our absenteeism from work. The decision to change Gambia to a “new Gambia” must be in tandem with the willingness to address the tyranny of breakfast.

Tardiness, by the way, is the quality of being late. When people don’t show up on time, they’re guilty of tardiness.

Breakfast has been the sole reason of tardiness at work in the Gambia. The official time to start work whether it is in the public sector or private sector is 8:00am. Failure to adhere to this rule for at least 50% (this is generous) of the time, has traditionally become an acceptable norm and truly a conformity to the mythical “Gambian Time”. You may conduct your own survey! Try visiting any office of the government on any given day, and see if you will not find at least 50% of the officers not at their post at 8AM to deliver service to the public. Let me hasten to say that this is not a blanket indictment on my fellow civil servants, but rather a trigger for national discuss.  Visit any office at 8:00am and invariably, you will be told that an officer you have business with is not seated because he/she is gone to buy breakfast. 90% of the time the same officer will not return to work, to start a day’s work until 9 to 9:30 am. On average, the Gambian worker will not be prepared to carry out their duty until one hour to one half hour past the official reporting time to work.

This writer is writing from personal experience, the experience of being told that the officer to serve me is not seated because he or she is sorting themselves out with breakfast one hour past 8AM. This has become so alarming; to the extent that we want to call ourselves “New Gambia” we must address this aspect of productivity or “New Gambia” remains a fallacy, or self delusionary or simply a catch phrase, a slogan.

On average, Gambia loses one hour to one half hour daily, five days a week and 365 days per annum multiplied by the number of the adult working persons of the country. I would have quantified this if The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOS) would have provided the statistics for working adults in The Gambia.  We can however, rightly guess this number to be in thousands. We therefore can reasonably, and deductively quantify this reasoning? Without a doubt, we can! Studies have already been conducted to demonstrate the socio-economic impact of tardiness and absenteeism.

Before delving into empirical facts, it is noteworthy to make reference to Micheal Ba Banutu-Gomez’s article “Understanding Business Markets And Processes In The Gambia” The reader may Google this article and read it in its entirety. According to Banutu-Gomez (2007), Gambia is a polychromic culture where people’s view of time is cyclical and goes around and around. Additionally, time does not create pressure for swift action or performance for Gambians. Thus the attitude purports that one will have an opportunity to pass the same way again; with this attitude, one holds a view that if an opportunity is lost today-no problem, God is great, and that tomorrow will offer a new chance. Gambians view time as a flexibility, and not with rigidity, and therefore late appointments are common, and usually may be anticipated (Banutu-Gomez, 2007). The famous saying in the Gambia is “The Gambia, no problem” sums it all up (Banutu-Gomez, 2007). Here we can easily conclude that this attitude automatically determines our work ethics, and the cultural ethos of our organizations.

With the above findings by Banutu-Gomez, let us now look at the effects of Tardiness/Absenteeism on individuals, and organizations. The fact is, it is simply business. Every minute you are late, you are costing the business. Studies have shown that an employee who is chronically late; someone late for example only 10 minutes every single day, by the end of the year has effectively taken one week paid vacation. In the Gambian worker’s case, this amounts to several weeks of unscheduled paid vacation, as we are known to be late for at least an hour on a daily bases. Do the math, and the result will be astounding. This to the employee does not feel like a vacation, but to the employer, because they have lost your work or productivity for a week and have paid you for that time it sure feels like a vacation. The other aspect of this analysis is the sense of customer service. If you expect to arrive at an office and receive service, but found that office not open at the appointed hour, and have to wait past the office start time, it will lead to an unhappy client. That is the expectation of the client has not being met, and similarly that is the expectation the employer has of the employee to be on time which also has not being met.

Consider the following as the consequences of tardiness. The cost of tardiness/absenteeism for example in a factory was estimated at between $55.36 and 62.49 per incident over a four year period (Goodman, 1984). According to Goodman (1984), the total estimated absenteeism costs for the firm varied from $289, 360 to $570, 453 per year during the same period.

For small businesses anywhere in the world including the Gambia, tardiness impacts your business in a number of ways that includes the company’s ability to meet customer needs and achieve optimal productivity. Tardiness impacts on the ability to build a reputation and prompt service is an integral component of strengthening relations with clients and other businesses in your community. When your staff is tardy, these late arrivals can cause an imbalance in the shipping schedules, cause delays in deliveries and allow possible business contacts to remain on accomplished. This can impact on profit levels of small businesses as customers will search for more dependable companies to provide goods and services. This same principle applies to the central government where disillusionment occurs, causing disaffection for government. To say the least, persistent tardiness also impacts on the employee morale. Those that are not tardy are forced to carry greater workload leading to low morale as this may lead to break down in team atmosphere amongst employees.

Going by the referenced studies, we can easily conclude that similar costs are endured by all employers in the Gambia. This directly affects productivity that inversely affects Gambia’s GDP.

What are the causes of tardiness in the Gambia?

In the Gambia, tardiness is often associated with transportation. The average Gambian worker will tell you that they arrived late to work because of transportation difficulties. This may be valid as can be seen at West Field on any given morning, thus I call it “the West Field Phenomenon”. The rush to catch a ride at West Field can be a night mare for most commuters. The majority of the Gambian workers live in the Greater Banjul Area (GBA) often known as Serre Kunda, Bakau, and surrounding communities to Brikama. This therefore requires, for those who do not own a car, dependency on the public transport system. Surely we also know that road network in the GBA is devoid of efficiency for lack of feeder roads that could possibly reduce traffic congestion. All these facts granted, it remains to be said that these facts cannot be used as reason for tardiness.

The question that begs to be asked is that why can we not have our breakfast at home and not at the office? Some will argue that having breakfast at home would subject them to more difficulties with transportation. This is not a valid argument.

How can we reverse this liability to a credit?

The issue for this writer is that time management remains a challenge for most workers. If a worker is determined and committed to be at work on time they will find a way. If good work ethics is part of the Gambian workers’ character, they will find a way to be on time. Here my argument is that being on time at work is directly related to time management which is directly related to human desire/will to be on time. The will here would be triggered by a desire to ensure one rises early to take your breakfast at home with the family (this improves family time, like in the old days). In time management, breakfast time will be allotted, and time to leave home would follow, and time to catch a ride would also be allotted. With all these allotments, added travel time would eventually determine arrival time. Application of such a method with incremental improvements will reduce the tardiness to a minimum of little financial or social consequence. Here therefore, our attitude towards time requires reconsideration and pivot away from polychromatism.

The solution begins with the employee in change of attitude, molding our work ethics leading to good organizational ethos. The government as always remains a partner in the application of social solutions. A consideration towards investment in a robust and effective urban transportation system remains an urgent need in The Gambia. Gambia cannot be a “New Gambia” without strategic thinking in a modern transportation system that will ease/improve transportation/communication between places in the GBA. Improved feeder road systems would be central to this strategy. Additionally, incentives may help to usher in improved car pooling opportunities. In my view, all efforts are to facilitate the change of attitude of The Gambian worker. Until then, Gambia remains Gambia, old or new. We must seek and retain “New”; attitudes must change. We must change our work ethics and we must learn to join the world’s dynamic communities of nations in catching up, or we risk stagnation; backsliding to the abyss. I remain optimistic that good minds in public and private sector will prevail on their workers for a change of attitude towards time management.

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