As the gig economy has taken off around the world, it’s gotten a bad rap. In the West, it’s blamed for fraying benefits like time off and recourse for workplace harassment or abuse, and that it tends to be the biggest boon for those already in power. For most workers, then, the gig economy seems to offer a false promise of flexibility and productivity.

In many parts of Africa, however, that equation is different. Take a country like Kenya. It’s overwhelmingly young (more than half of the country’s population is under age 25), and the unemployment rate is high—9% officially in 2018, but if you include people who are underemployed, it jumps to 35%. The country’s informal economy, which has thrived for decades, is now growing faster than the formal economy.

This is the case in many countries across the continent. There are clear benefits of gig work—not only are people better able to make a living, they’re able to do so by following their passions and their skill set, even when the formal economy isn’t set up to employ them. Online platforms like Lynk help workers find jobs more easily so that they no longer have to physically sit in spaces waiting for a windfall; they also provide a form of accountability between consumers and workers, enhancing the trust between the two.

And yet, gig workers in Africa are subject to the same downsides as people elsewhere in the world—a lack of benefits, volatile opportunities, and ultimately unstable income.

An Uber driver in Nairobi, Kenya.
An Uber driver in Nairobi, Kenya.
Image: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Do the pros of gig work outweigh the cons for Africans? Is this really the solution to the sputtering economy? And is anyone looking to ameliorate those downsides so gig work can truly live up to its promise?

In the third episode of The Gig Is Up podcast, experts, consumers, and gig workers weigh on the state of gig work in Africa, who benefits most from it, and whether it truly is the future of work on the continent.

This podcast is presented in collaboration by BFA and Quartz Africa. 

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