The gig economy, characterized by flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs, has grown rapidly in recent years with the advent of digital platforms that connect workers to clients and customers. In Kenya, the gig economy is often hailed as a promising solution to the country’s high youth unemployment rate, which hovers around 40%.
Proponents argue that the low barriers to entry and autonomy of gig work provides income opportunities for the many educated yet jobless youth. However, challenges remain around fair pay, benefits, and sustainability of gig work.
This article examines the rise of the gig economy in Kenya and analyzes whether it can provide a long-term solution to unemployment in the country.
The Growth of the Gig Economy in Kenya
The gig economy in Kenya has grown exponentially over the past decade.
A major factor driving this growth is the proliferation of digital labor platforms that connect workers to opportunities regionally and globally.
Some of the most popular platforms used by Kenyan gig workers are:
- Upwork – Freelance platform for hiring skilled professionals globally in areas like software development, design, writing, administrative work.
- Fiverr – Freelance services marketplace for digital services like graphic design, programming, video editing.
- Uber – Ride hailing service that allows drivers to accept trips via an app.
- Bolt – Ride hailing app competing with Uber with over 15,000 drivers in Kenya.
- Glovo – On-demand courier service allowing independent contractors to deliver items.
- Lynk – Links professionals to jobs on demand e.g. plumber, electrician, tutor.
Additional factors propelling the rise of the gig economy include increasing internet penetration and mobile money services, which make online work more accessible.
Kenya has a relatively well-educated, tech-savvy population with 70% of adults owning a mobile phone.
The youth bulge in the country also ensures a steady supply of potential gig workers – over 80% of Kenya’s population is under 35 years old.
A study by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimated that over 2.4 million Kenyans were engaged in some form of gig work by 2019, a marked increase from previous years.
The gig economy now accounts for over 80% of new jobs created annually in the country.
Key sectors include transportation, delivery services, creative work, writing and data entry, programming and professional services.
With massive youth unemployment, many observers view the burgeoning gig economy as presenting income opportunities for young people in Kenya. But does gig work truly provide a solution to unemployment?
Is the Gig Economy a Solution to Unemployment in Kenya?
While the gig economy has rapidly expanded in Kenya, there are debates around whether it presents quality, sustainable employment for the masses of unemployed youth or just precarious work.
Arguments That Gigs are Beneficial
- Provide Livelihood Opportunities For many unemployed youth, gig work is often the most accessible way to earn income quickly. The low barriers to entry and ability to set your own schedule makes it an attractive option. Approximately 26% of gig workers in Kenya consider it their primary occupation.
- Job Creation Estimates show that over 2 million Kenyans earn income through the gig economy, contributing to job creation and economic growth. The World Bank estimates gig work could account for over 40% of new jobs in Kenya in the next decade.
- Flexibility Gig work offers flexibility in setting schedules and allows easier entering and exiting jobs. This appeals to students and those with care responsibilities. Approximately a third of gig workers in Kenya are students engaged in gigs for extra income.
- Skill Development By exposing youth to more work experiences, gigs can build skills, experience and networks to transition to better opportunities. Gigs also promote tech literacy and global understanding.
Concerns Around Gig Work
- Low, Unstable Earnings Gig earning potential in Kenya averages just Ksh35,000 per month, below formal sector minimum wage. Fluctuating demand for gigs also leads to income instability. This makes it difficult to rely on gig work long-term.
- Limited Benefits or Social Protection Gig workers are self-employed and rarely receive benefits like health insurance, pensions or paid leave that formal employees get. They are vulnerable without these social safety nets.
- Precarious Work Conditions Critics contend that gig work equates to casual labor without job security or regulations to protect workers from exploitation such as unfair commissions, lack of grievance resolution, or arbitrary account suspensions.
- Digitally-Mediated Informal Work Rather than transforming employment, some argue that platforms are simply digitizing informal casual work while avoiding taxes, regulation and responsibilities towards workers.
While the gig economy provides livelihood opportunities for unemployed youth, there are real concerns on whether it promotes sustainable decent work at scale.
More policy research is needed on measures like:
- Reviewing gig worker protections and benefits eligibility under Kenya’s labor laws.
- Enabling collective bargaining mechanisms for gig workers.
- Improving access to finance, skills training and social security nets.
- Designating government oversight for gig economy platforms.
Stronger partnerships between government, platforms, unions and development partners can also help maximize the potential of digitally-enabled work for inclusive employment and balanced economic growth.
The gig economy is a reality that cannot be ignored. But for it to provide a ladder out of unemployment rather than precarious work, Kenya needs proactive policies to continually improve gig job quality, equity and workers’ rights.