Published On: Wed, Jan 16th, 2019

Africa’s Informal Economy is Basically a “Gig” Economy

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Today, freelancers represent 35% of the United States workforce and 16.1% in the Europe Union. In Africa, figures are harder to determine, however, in South Africa the number is thought to be about 10% and rising strongly. In OECD countries, studies show that freelancers work chiefly in the service sector and doing mostly white and pink collar jobs in mostly in communications, media, design, art and tech, among others sectors.

These figures above demonstrate the same global trend: from creative entrepreneurs to those paid by the task, indicating that freelancing is on the rise in development countries. The current increase in freelancing being observed in developed countries is as a result of the increased outsourcing of traditional 9-to-5 white collar jobs to freelancers.

Research shows freelancing was not the preferred choice for many white-collar freelancers in developed countries. While some white-collar workers left 9-to-5 jobs with poor pay to become freelancers, most became freelancers after failing to get a 9-to-5 job. However, in the United States, only 37% of current freelancers in the country say they resort to freelancing out of necessity. In these countries freelancing is increasingly a choice that people mostly make in order to escape the 9-to-5 workday or in other to work in style, trying to combine innovative approaches to business and lifestyle, making freelancing sounds like an innovation or freedom.

This colourful “Gig” economy narrative been promoted by developed countries ignores Africa’s unique economy and labour market. From the African perspective the story is different. Let’s take a look at the Africa’s economy and labour market.

According to the estimate of the International Labour Organization more than 66% of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa comes from the informal sector. These employment according to the lnformal-sector theories, refers to jobs in smallscale enterprises, self-employment, one-person enterprises, artesian production and domestic services, that are without social security protections such as healthcare benefits and retirement plans.

Jobs in this sector are characterised by task based wages, short contracts, and multiple employers. They are mainly temporary, usually single engagement, and of short or uncertain duration. By these descriptions, one can say most jobs in Africa’s informal sector are freelance jobs.

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