According to a report by Payoneer, Africa is home to 10.1% of the world's freelancers. As the rates of unemployment in Africa continue to soar, skilled Africans are increasingly turning to freelance. Sighs of collective relief are sweeping across African governments as skilled unemployed populations get an opportunity to earn an income. While this is a good thing it has to be stated that freelancing in Africa will never reach its potential. Why is this so?
Freelance jobs created in Africa
The number of freelance jobs that are created in Africa for Africans is negligible. Freelancers in Africa are left with no choice but to look for jobs on foreign freelancing platforms. It is not uncommon to find on these sites, jobs that Africans are not allowed to apply for, despite possessing the skills to deliver. Some platforms limit Africans from joining altogether, only allowing freelancers from other continents. Such decisions are informed by negative perceptions of Africa. It is assumed that Africans do not possess the skills to execute the projects that are posted on the platforms. This is despite the fact that Africa comprises one of the largest talent pool of the labour force in the world. There are no indications that Africa will come up with its own freelancing platforms that are equivalent to giants like Upwork, Fiverr or Freelancer. The few that currently exist have little and inconsistent volumes of work; and the pays are also low.
As the world prepares to migrate to 5G technology, most of Africa is still using 3G and 2G, if they have any internet connectivity at all. Internet connectivity and penetration in Africa is low and characterized by slow speeds. According to the Worldwide Broadband Speed League 2019, some African Nations have speeds slower than 1MBPs. Internet connectivity has a direct correlation with freelance opportunities. With such slow speeds, carrying out online research for a freelance writer, for instance, would be a tedious task. Slow internet below the world average speeds is not the only problem. Freelancers in Africa also have to deal with the high costs of the internet. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest broadband prices in the world. Skilled Africans willing to try out freelancing are discouraged by these high prices. Affordable and fast internet is a factor that will determine the growth of freelancing in Africa.
In 2014 PayPal made a bizarre entry into the Nigerian market. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. PayPal only allows users in Nigeria to make payments on foreign websites, but not to receive money. PayPal is likely to have founded its decision on the stereotype that Nigerians are scammers and they would use PayPal to receive money from victims overseas. An example of the effect of this decision was witnessed when Rukky Kofi, a Nigerian freelancer, got a job from a foreign client where salaries would be paid through PayPal exclusively. The freelancer was set to earn $1000 a month, which is a tidy sum in Africa. In his change.org petition, Rukky decried the effect of PayPal's one-sided relationship with Nigeria. It is not just in Nigeria alone that PayPal operates like this. One cannot receive money on this platform on several other African countries. PayPal is one of the most popular choices through which freelancers are paid. This decision undermines the entire freelance industry in Africa. In Africa, there are only eight countries where a PayPal user send and receive money. Unlike PayPal, Payoneer has had a sizeable presence in Africa and does not limit the manner of transaction. It is however not a very popular payment method for people hiring freelancers.
Recognition of freelancing as a career in Africa
African governments should do more to recognize freelancing as a career. Infrastructure should be put in place to ensure that freelancers are able to make a living. Online is where freelance jobs are available most. African governments should, therefore, ensure the availability of fast and affordable internet. Freelancing is one of the major solutions in the unemployment menace in Africa today.
The role of mobile money
Most of the African population is unbanked and rely on mobile Money. M-Pesa, a mobile money platform by Kenya's telecommunication company Safaricom, is the most widely used. Upwork has included M-Pesa as a payment option on its platform. PayPal also allows M-Pesa users to send and receive money on its platform. Freelancing in Africa will grow when more African mobile money solutions are adopted by global freelancing stakeholders.
The future of freelance in Africa
While the odds of freelance in Africa reaching its potential are currently low, there is hope. Upwork’s and PayPal’s recognition of M-Pesa is a step in the right direction. However, more can be done. Africans living in the diaspora can be ambassadors of freelance in Africa by promoting the hiring of African freelancers and outsourcing freelance jobs to Africa.