Time in Africa

Sunrise with Cape Town City Hall, South Africa
Artie Photography (Artie Ng) / Getty Images

If you want to know what time it is right now somewhere in Africa, check this world clock for the current time in every major African city, and click on this world clock for the current time in every African country. Very handy when you want to phone someone in Africa and don't want to be responsible for waking them up at 3am just to say "hello".

The difference between Cape Verde (Africa's most Westerly point) and The Seychelles (Africa's most Easterly point) is 5 hours. So if it's 2pm in Cape Verde, it's 7pm in the Seychelles. On mainland Africa, West Africa is 3 hours behind East Africa. As you go from North to South there is no time difference. So the clock is the same in Libya as it is in South Africa. For an overview of time on a handy map of Africa, click here.

Daylight Savings Time

The only African countries that operate on daylight savings time are Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Namibia. The dates they start their daylight savings time differ from one another; you can get up to date information here.

And if you weren't aware, time zones can be a political issue. Namibians are encouraged by their local newspapers to take patriotic pride in daylight savings time, as the introduction of the Time Change Act had been part of the decolonisation process of the country.

Time Zones Within Individual African Countries

Every individual African country has the same time zone -- so there are no time zones within one country, even in Sudan, which is Africa's largest country. However recent energy crises in South Africa has prompted the Government to consider splitting the country into two time zones.

The Concept of Time in Africa

Africans have a reputation for tardiness similar to the Northern European reputation for punctuality. Naturally, you cannot generalize about a huge continent with more than 50 countries and hundreds of cultures. But, when you travel in rural Africa especially, you'll have to slow down. Trains in remote areas can be late by a day or two and it'll be accepted by your fellow passengers with a shrug. A bus breaks down and it can easily take a day for the driver to run to the nearest garage for spare parts.

This can be frustrating if you're on a time-budget, but you'll have to factor it into your plans.

A prominent Kenyan Philosopher, John Mbiti, wrote an essay about the "African Concept of Time" which delves deeply into the idea that different cultures perceive time in different ways, which has little to do with whether one wears a watch or not. The BBC Website has an interesting discussion about the concept of time in Africa with many African voices contributing their ideas.

In October 2008 The Ivory Coast Government ran a campaign with a slogan "African time' is killing Africa, let's fight it". The President awarded a nice villa to the businessman or civil servant who was able to be punctual for all of their appointments in a country notorious for people arriving late to everything. Click here for the full story.

However, it's just as likely that you will go to visit an African country and find that everything happens precisely on schedule. You can never generalize.

Swahili Time

Swahili time is followed by many East Africans, particularly Kenyans and Tanzanians. Swahili time starts at 6am not midnight. So if a Tanzanian tells you the bus leaves at 1 in the morning, he probably means 7am. If he says the train leaves at 3 in the morning that would mean 9am. It's wise to double check. Interestingly, Ethiopians use the same clock, but they don't speak Swahili.

The Ethiopian Calendar

Ethiopians follow an ancient Coptic calendar that runs about 7.5 years behind the Gregorian calendar (which most of you reading probably follow). The Ethiopian calendar is made up of 12 months; each lasting 30 days, and then an extra month is tagged on lasting just 5 days (6 in a leap year). Most of the world's calendars are in fact based on an ancient Egyptian calendar, so there are many similarities. Ethiopia is 7.5 years behind the Gregorian calendar because the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church didn't agree on the date of the creation of the world, so they started off from two different points many hundreds of years ago.

Ethiopians celebrated their millennium in style in September 2007.

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