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More and more Kenyans are swimming along with the tide as the job market becomes increasingly ‘gig’ oriented.

Sheila Birgen is the entrepreneurship director at I-hub Kenya. She defines a gig as a consultancy; a specific short-term assignment.

In the gig economy professionals will sign up as freelancers. Upon executing a gig they then move on to the next one.

As expected, the gig economy is driven by the availability of the Internet. And according to Communications Authority (CA) the country’s Internet penetration is at 90 per cent.

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This has spawned firms offering services remotely. Such firms – the likes of Bolt (a taxi hailing app), Swvl (a bus hailing service) and Glovo (providing delivery services) – have in turn afforded Kenyans opportunities to work and be paid for services rendered.

This week we talked to three Kenyans making money after signing up with the three firms. Here are their experiences.

Alphonce Esilo, Bolt driver.
Alphonce Esilo – Online taxi driver

Immediately after leaving high school, more than a decade back, Alphonce Esilo began applying for jobs.

“I did many written applications. Many of them never came back,” he says.

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Esilo then went to driving school and acquired credentials to operate heavy commercial vehicles. At that point, he got hired by a business firm.

“I was hired as a driver. It is from this job that I moved to Bolt (formerly Taxify) in June 2017,” he says.

Esilo switched jobs – moving from 8-to-5 employment – to a job that allows him to work flexible hours.

His motivation, he says, were better pay and being his own boss. So, he rented a car and signed up as a Bolt driver.

Esilo’s working day starts at 4pm. “That is the time I go online with my phone,” he says.

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He is armed with a service provider’s app that allows clients with a corresponding customer app to seek his services. “The app picks requests from clients who are geographically close. I transport them to their destination and wait for another request,” he says.

By 4am the next morning Esilo is usually on his last drop-off after which he heads home to rest.

“I prefer the night time because there is less traffic and it is much easier to find parking space in the city centre,” he says.

But why didn’t he just go into the traditional taxi business: where a client goes to the taxi driver and negotiates the price?

To begin with, he says, he had never been enticed by that model of providing taxi services. “Driving is my passion. But I have never wanted to do taxi the old way,” he says.

He is also aware of the times; acknowledging that times have changed and the future belongs to innovation.

But there is something else: he makes more money now than he did when he was employed.

Catherine Kang’ara, SWVL driver.
Catherine Kang’ara – Online bus driver

Fifty-two-year-old Catherine Kang’ara looks 10 years younger sitting behind the wheel of her 14-seater minivan.

She has been driving public service vehicles for about 15 years now: working for different matatu Saccos.

“I have worked for at least five different players in the matatu business,” she says.

Her latest stint has seen her join the bus hailing service Swvl.

“For the last few years I have thought about my retirement. But I never quite knew how to go about it. Swvl felt like the right way when I got to know about it,” she says.

Catherine became a PSV driver in 2005.

Her motivation then was to earn a living and provide for her four children after losing her husband in 1999 to an illness.

She was plying the Meru - Nairobi route before switching platforms.

“A friend – who we had worked with in the public sector – told me about Swvl,” she says.

On further inquiry he gave her a number (belonging to a Swvl official) to call.

“I met the Swvl staff. He inspected my vehicle and said the van was in good shape. He asked me to repaint it white and then take it for a second inspection,” she says.

The van was cleared. Catherine then attended training for Swvl drivers. “And that was it!”

It is now two months since she moved to Swvl.

“I have no regrets. On the contrary, I wish this had happened earlier,” she says.

Swvl, much like Bolt, requires a smartphone equipped client to book for the service via an app.

“You open the app and key in your request with details such as the picking and dropping points,” she says.

Catherine is armed with a captain’s app – which allows her to see who has booked to use her van and their pick-up points.

She ferries passengers between Mwiki and Westlands. She says: “I do four trips every day. Three in the morning and one in the evening. In the morning I am usually done by 2pm. And the evening trip lasts under two hours. The rest of the time I am resting or attending to personal matters.”

Her van, she says, is always full. She is paid every week.

The money she makes is somewhat the same as she did while she worked in the matatu industry.

“However, I have tonnes of time to myself and my family. And I wake up at 6am instead of 4am like I used to,” she says.

Justine Nyamboga, motorbike rider.
Justine Nyamboga – motorbike rider

Justine Nyamboga is aware of the high youth unemployment rate in Kenya.

“I have friends who have graduated from the university and are just as jobless as those who never went to school to that level,” he says.

After graduating from high school in 2016, Justine was convinced that he would need to go to college or university before considering himself employable.

But he did not have the money to study further. So, he took up menial jobs – eventually ending up at a coffee plantation. He never even bothered to apply for ‘better’ jobs.

“The job at the coffee plantation wasn’t paying well,” he says.

So, in December 2018, when Justine first got introduced to Glovo, he did not think twice to give it a try.

His work involves picking and dropping deliveries on a motorbike.

Glovo, like Bolt and Swvl, is operated via an app. A user with the Glovo app in their phone can order anything – food, groceries or household items – as long as it is the size that can fit on a motorbike.

Glovo makes deliveries under 45 minutes. The company purchases and delivers items to the client who then pays back the costs of buying the item plus a service charge.

“I am paid at the end of every week,” Justine says.

His days are busy making deliveries. But the job also allows him some flexibility.

He is paid every week by the company. He says he is happy and that he is earning more than he did working at the coffee plantation.  

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