Inside Politics

What Kenya’s gig economy needs to fulfil its potential

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020 00:00 |
Digital world. Photo/Courtesy

Benard chumo is about 30 years old, speaks Swahili and English, has a high school certificate,  an  abiding  interest  in  tinkering  with  electronics  and  a  smartphone  that  helps  him  connect  to  daily  gigs  as a carpenter.  

The resident of Kawangware, Nairobi has learnt, over the two years that he has been doing gig work, to keep his expenses flexible because he may earn anywhere between Sh10,001 and Sh30,000. 

His wife, a new entrant into gig work as a nanny-cum-household help, gets called in to do chores as well.

She enjoys the flexibility she gets from gig  work,  because  she  also  has  to  look  after  their  children.  

If  only,  the  couple  says,  there  was  some  stability  and  continuity  of  income,  they  would  be  able  to  plan  their  lives  around  their  work  –  acquire  a  better  mobile device with a more reliable internet connection, train as a driver, obtain a car on a loan and join a gig platform. 

More  freelancers  are  entering  the  gig  economy  sectors  such  as  ride  sharing, professional services, handmade goods and household services and asset sharing.

However, lack of the requisite infrastructure hampers the availability of jobs.

Lack of access to digital connectivity is slowing down the growth of Kenya’s gig economy, a new report by Mastercard shows.

The white paper, titled: “The Gig Economy in East Africa: A Gateway to the Financial Mainstream,” shows that while the online gig economy in Kenya is worth Sh11 billion, employing 36,573 people, the offline gig economy is worth Sh2 trillion employing five million people.

“If each key player in the gig economy ecosystem comes together – from the platform, to the mobile industry and the payments provider – we can realize the true potential of inclusive, sustainable growth across the continent,” said Jorn Lambert, chief digital officer, Mastercard.

Some of these platforms include Fundis, Glovo, Bolt, Lynk, MamaFua, Uber, otherwise traditional gig workers have been dependent on word of mouth.

These platforms need smooth integrations with payment platforms for ease of payment processing.

This allows small businesses – from chicken farmers to tailors and fashion  designers  to  run  their  office  entirely  from  their  phones,  with  access to opportunities and payments.

The  automobile  segment  allows  gig  participation  via  companies  such  as Mobius Motors Kenya that manufacture vehicles, and Associated Vehicle  Assemblers  (AVA)  that  assemble  vehicles  and  motorcyclists  who  may double as mechanics and tire repairers. 

Gig workers

In Kenya, artisanal and general services like welding, electricians, capenters, housekeeping, nannying are the most common gigs founding on online platforms.

The whitepaper shows how gig work across East Africa is helping to drive economic growth by facilitating economic opportunities, improving livelihoods, and acting as a buffer against unemployment especially in Kenya, where youth unemployment is high. 

About 5.13 million gig workers find jobs in agricul-ture,  manufacturing,  trade  and  hospitality,  construction,  transport  and  communications, and community, social and personal services.

For the gig economy to reach its full potential and unlock prosperity for millions of people, the digital divide must be bridged through connected devices.

Being self-employed with the freedom to work at an individual pace are part of why gig work is growing. 

The paper, based on research from in-depth face-to-face interviews with gig workers in Kenya, shows that the gig economy is nascent, buoyant, and continues to grow, with almost two-thirds of gig workers joining the gig economy between 2017 and 2019.

However, like much of the informal sector, uncertainty is a fact of rife, with the biggest challenges being continuity of income. 

Over half (55 per cent) said not knowing when the next gig leads to instability.

And close to 60 per cent of respondents said fluctuation in income from week to week is a cause for frustration.

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