Africa and the Future of Work: Understanding the Gig Economy – Part 1.

South African telecoms firm, MTN, on Friday sacked 280 of its employees in Nigeria, in a major job cut that affected about 15% of the company’s entire Nigerian workforce. Those affected by the move include some 200 permanent employees and about 80 contract staff across various cadres, ranging from new graduates to senior managers.

Many of those sacked spent up to 15 years with the company having joined MTN as it opened its business in Nigeria in 2001. Our sources said affected workers were given a dismal severance of 75% of their gross monthly income multiplied by the number of years with the company.

That was the news as seen on Nairaland Website on 2 May, 2017.

And many more of this is coming. Why? Work is changing. The world is getting to a point where permanence of employment is an illusion. Organizations are outsourcing on a large scale. It’s a give me what I want now. I pay you. You go system.

Well, let’s get into understanding what this gig thing is.

What is the gig economy?

This is what Investopedia website explains the gig economy as:

In a gig economy, temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies tend toward hiring independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees. A gig economy undermines the traditional economy of full-time workers who rarely change positions and instead focus on a lifetime career.

That’s it! It use to be that you get into an organization, grow, retire or maybe die there. When you are done, your kids come in if they want to. That is changing. Even if you have that due to family business structuring, the change is coming so fast.

Reasons for the gig economy.

I think it’s just simple. Companies have come to realise they can do more with less long term staff strength. There’s effective cost management in outsourcing jobs.

It’s clear there are better people who can do what you are doing at a cheaper rate. So, why should we keep you? they ask…

Let’s not stop there. Employees too want a more flexible lifestyle. You want to do your work from the confines of your bedroom without showing up in the office. This is another great factor driving the gigism of the economy.

So, it’s a reaction between the thirst and dynamics of employees, employers and the economic forces. Whether it is balanced is a course for another day.

The Pros!

More Flexibility: I use the WordPress app to do all the work I need to do online. From research to first draft from vague idea to refining the draft to more editing (photo editing and…) to final uploading anywhere I find myself. This is a plus for the gig economy.

Access to more employment opportunities: Google Fiverr or or… You’ll find lots of jobs available with limited applicants. If fired today, it’s only by choice to be jobless in the next 12hrs.

More money:  This is also true of you know what you want. You can have two or more jobs without interference. What’s the translation in dollars or Rand?

Less computing expenses: Source of power might be the only reason you move. If you can work from anywhere, why move?

It carters more to the creative worker: Those who are art inclined folks – she draws, into music, photography, fashion designing… – are given that space to express themselves. So, they enjoy the flow.

The Cons!

No benefits apart from your pay: The 401k system or whatever your ststa calls it, might not functional. Although, I saw recently how Uber is making retirement plans for it’s staff. But how many organization will do that? It means you have to plan with your salary.

(For government) Taxes might be difficult to track: Very true. Fintechs are making easier to pay and be paid for service rendered. How will government receive taxes?


High levels of isolation: And this could lead to depression amongst workers. You’re working from home. Just you. No one to disturb you and make you angry in the office… I think this might make some folks refuse the system entirely. Although there’s a way out of this…

Stress or anxiety in the instability of the work you’re doing: You’re replaceable. If your work is not good, we can call someone else. Remember how your mum stayed faithful to the organization and they cherished her? Now, it’s going away. You are repleaceble!

No room for lack of skills: You are either good or go away. Most folks I tell about building websites just tell me yo go online and I’ll get it cheaper and better. So also, organizations will get things done cheaper and better and if you’re not getting better your odds are just in…

It’ll take longer time to build experience as in teems of focus: As you do this and do that, that focus needed for mastery will be lacking. If you stay stable in a place and work and learn, mastery from experience comes faster.

How can you as an African Employee Thrive?

Taking a look at these cons and its trends, if you’re an employee, how would you navigate the tide? What will be your strategy?

From Johannesburg to Addis Ababa to Lagos and Cairo, there’s no exemption or hiding place for this. The way forward is this: How will I thrive in this system?

Albert Einstein will tell us this:

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

And George Bernard Shaw…

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

The way to thrive says Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski is to use these strategies:

Place, Routine, Purpose and People.

And the second part of this post talks about these strategies extensively.