Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Freelancing is increasingly becoming popular in Africa. Professionals and amateurs in different fields are relying on freelancing as their sole or supplementary livelihood. Partly because of the stringent labor laws (relative to the US for instance) across the continent, many domestic companies increasingly prefer hiring freelance labor as opposed to permanent employees.
There are countless freelance jobs available to Africans: article and academic writing (see BBC report on Kenyan writers), audio narration and translation, journalism, accounting and engineering. Partly thanks to the infinite availability of educational resources online, you will find African freelancers in just about any field. A number of factors are leading the growth of freelancing in Africa. Let us explore!.
Internet and Globalization
Thanks to the internet, the world has become a global village. Digitization and the internet have relatively flattened the global labor market and allowed employers to hire workers from almost any corner in the world. This in turn has allowed many Africans to leverage their skills, knowledge and lower cost of living to capture a slice of the global digital economy.
Despite the higher internet costs in African countries such as Kenya where a basic internet package will cost about $30 per month, more and more Africans are relying on freelancing to earn a living. The decreasing cost of internet access across the continent means that we should expect an increasing number of Africans joining the global freelance market.
Entrepreneurship is the only solution
Though millions of young people are graduating every year, there are few opportunities in the conventional labor market. Jobs are scarce, and often entry level pays for the lucky ones barely suffice to survive. Unemployment among Africans under 35 years old, can reach 50% in many countries. Consequently, for many graduates, freelancing has become the best shot at earning a decent living.
Many Africans lured to freelancing by the drive to be masters of their destiny; especially the “potential” for higher correlation between effort and personal financial success. Freelancing has the perception of conferring a greater level of work-life balance such as: (1) the ability to work from home and avoid the craziness of traffic jams in many urban areas across Africa; (2) the flexibility to arrange your work schedule. Let’s explore this idea a bit more below.
The flexibility of freelance jobs
Based on a South African report, there are more female freelancers than male freelancers in the country. According to the report, women and their multitasking nature prefer freelance jobs as they accord them more time to, for example, take care of their kids. New moms who are on leave, as well as stay at home moms have turned to freelancing (ghost writers, virtual assistants, graphic designers, etc.) to earn a living. Increasingly, retirees and professional moonlighters (individuals who freelance after a 9-5 job) are also joining the digital gig economy to earn an extra income.
Many Options to find freelance work
The rise of freelancing on the continent has spurred the development of freelance platforms such as Freelance.africa and other African websites that are dedicated to freelancers and employers in African. In addition, there are many global platforms that Africans do use to find work. In fact, global platform tend to be attractive because they pay better; but there are also more competitive. While Africans do theoretically enjoy a cost advantage conferred by the continent’s lower living standard; our research does intuit that this is reversed by higher internet costs, and the perception from global employers that Africans education and work quality are poor.
Some companies such as Afro Assist and Andela have also emerged and use hybrid (Agency/platform) models to source global work for African freelancers. Afro Assist, especially focuses on linking African virtual assistants with African entrepreneurs in the diaspora.
With the decreasing rate of internet cost and the increasing pressure of unemployment, freelancing in Africa is due to experience a boom in the coming years. Investors, entrepreneurs and policy makers should pay a closer look at this emerging sector. It is especially our believe that the digital economy stores immense opportunities to affect the continent’s high unemployment rates. The ball is in our court.