Google.org Foundation is investing $50 million in researching the implications of a gig economy. However, we may have some of the answers from Arusha to Dakar and Cairo to Mbabane.
African countries have been emulating the Gig Economy for a while, what with a prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work compared with long-term, permanent jobs. In 2015, for example, 12 million young Africans entered the labour force but there were only 3.1 million new jobs. What some see as a solution for employing the other nine million is emulating Silicon Valley and creating technology jobs.
This strategy is a shortcut, however, in a non-existent ecosystem currently designed for agricultural transformation. As such, it is bound to struggle and potentially fail.
Indeed, it is unclear how one million already digitally skilled young people in Africa would transform their aspirations into jobs or creating jobs. Yet, we accept Google’s intention to train 10 million more Africans even though we have a digitally divided and fragmented ecosystem with not enough jobs.
The reality is, the majority of Africans are not thriving in the digital space. What digital forces are engendering is uncertainty, creating an ecosystem that relies on short-term freelance engagement instead of full-time employment.
Africa’s gig economy has its place and use, but its permanent feature with unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers must be resolved. In a gig economy, many people are self-employed, receive pay for limited contracts, some are on zero-hour contracts and seek more than one source of income.