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While multinational tech solutions advance to Africa to provide jobs and tackle unemployment, they also milk the continent through their well-baked digital labour exploitation strategies in the process.

African governments are very much delighted to welcome these “opportunities” with the hope of skyrocketing development through digital services and commodities but fail or purposely fail to see the bigger picture.

“Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”—Monkeys work while the Baboon Eats, happens to be the case for Uber drivers as last year’s report published on Global Information Society Watch revealed the ruthless practices of Uber digital labor exploitation particularly in Africa which now marks a decade in service on the continent.

While Uber helped average Africans earn a living in the transportation market, it equally did so cutting drivers’ pay and ignoring local laws.

According to Dr Kelle Howson, a research associate at the Oxford Internet Institute, and a consultant at the Institute for Economic Justice—a Johannesburg-based economic think-tank:

“In South Africa, for instance, where the unemployment rate is currently more than 30%, Uber lured thousands of drivers with attractive subsidies and secured market dominance while labour supply vastly outstripped demand. It then undermined drivers by upping its commission and eroding pay, to the extent that South African cities became the company’s most quickly profitable markets outside the US.”

“In Kenya, Uber slashed drivers’ earnings in a 35% fare cut in 2016, and subsequently launched a cut-price service, UberChapChap, which paid even less. A similar cut-price service, UberGo, was introduced in South Africa. Drivers, locked into car financing or rental agreements, often facilitated through Uber’s partnerships with local banks, and with limited alternative employment prospects, had little choice but to accept the new rates.”

“In countries where much work takes place in the informal economy without labour protections such as a minimum wage, platform contractual arrangements have been justified as a step-up from the status quo. However, they have forcibly closed off avenues for improvement in labour standards and collective bargaining, and aimed to normalise and legitimise precarious labour as standard. Research by the University of Oxford’s Fairwork project has repeatedly failed to verify that workers on major platforms in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa earn at or above local minimum wages.”

Howson also wrote that:

“The Uber files showed that when the company did become subject to regulatory pressure, it unleashed massive lobbying efforts, and in some cases attempted to rewrite laws in its favour. For instance, when Nigerian authorities tried to address Uber’s corporate tax avoidance, the company deflected criticism by offering to help the government collect tax from its drivers.”

“Uber admits to past mistakes and says that it has ‘fundamentally changed’ over the past five years. However, in a recent case, in Tanzania, the government tried to determine a per-kilometre ride-hailing rate and force companies to lower their commissions to 15% amid soaring fuel prices in March 2022. In response, Uber suspended its operations in the country, giving one day’s notice of this action in a statement. Its main competitor, Bolt, also significantly scaled back its operations. Uber resumed its service in Tanzania in September, apparently having reached an agreement to work with the regulator. Three months later, new regulations were brought in, allowing ride-hailing companies to charge 25% commission, as well as a 3% booking fee.”

“Uber has again demonstrated that it will not hesitate to leave urban African transport systems in the lurch should regulators move to protect workers’ pay. The company says that it “rigorously engages” with drivers and takes their feedback on board but, as costs and platform fees increase, most drivers are forced to work longer and longer hours, competing with a growing pool of other drivers.”

Although despite the reports and protests, Uber spokespersons “have since claimed that the company culture has changed under new leadership”.

By Elijah Christopher




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