The Reality of Uganda’s New Gig Economy

Today’s Uganda no longer guarantees a job after graduation. Gone are the days when having a university degree would secure you a position, sometimes even right after completing an internship. Nowadays, however, even with books and academic qualifications, a different kind of creativity is required to earn a living. The gig economy is one such alternative, defined by short-term contracts or freelance work instead of traditional permanent career positions.

As a university graduate, one quickly realizes that the job hunt is unpredictably long, time-consuming, and expensive. While you are not yet working, you need food, transport to drop your applications, some data/airtime, and all those basic needs, at a certain point in life, relying on parental support is no longer an option.  So how would you navigate this? Through gigs for money.

The trend was most realized by Ugandans during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Freelance work and temporary jobs had always been around, but during this time we realized that a single income source wasn’t viable. The lockdown and job layoffs added to the already high unemployment rates; thus, the job market became too saturated with educated labor but the jobs themselves were not enough to accommodate the pool, leading to a boom in the gig economy. Graduates part-timed as street vendors and teachers took on passenger Boda-boda services. We’ve learned that having expertise in one area doesn’t exempt you from seeking alternative sources of income.

Youths who despised manual work for the blue-collar job realized that Boda-boda services could provide the daily bread, managing a fast-food chapatti stall kept some money in their pocket, and that maybe ego has no room where financial success was due.

In such an economy, having numerous skills to pull from seems the only way forward. Skills like house painting and decor, plumbing, and motor mechanics among others can be a sure way to land a gig…seems the new curriculum saw something the rest of us missed.

However, while the gig economy has saved some from total bankruptcy, it comes with its challenges including,

Unpredictable Income: Gig workers often face fluctuating incomes due to the variable nature of short-term contracts. In addition, many of those who do venture into gig work do so as an escape strategy and therefore without prior experience or the business connections to earn a sustainable income on the first go. With persistence, however, many have developed their gigs and side projects into full-time income-generating strategies.

Low wages: Low wages offered by some gig jobs also severely impact profitability, especially when you factor in the costs workers must bear themselves. For example, with gig work, the worker is expected to show up on-site with their tools, unlike employees who may find tools and assets already procured by the employer.

Working Conditions: Gig offers often have varying working conditions, some favorable and others not so charming depending on what offer you manage. These, too, however, change depending on how much investment the worker inputs. For instance, a gig worker could start by laying bricks manually on family premises just for a small-time supply. However, as their sales increase they could decide to employ a machine to aid the process, in turn improving the conditions under which they work. In the end, a gig worker’s conditions often depend on personal management and investment.

The future of the gig economy is bright, especially now that the education system strives to create job-creator mindsets instead of the employee mindsets most of us were bred in school. This shift is evident in how now the acquisition of practical skills is developed right from the classroom with the new curriculum of education. This approach is especially useful in the changing world where financial freedom lies in the creativity to develop your own employment.

To conclude, the gig economy offers significant opportunities for flexibility, innovation and economic growth by allowing for more job creation. It provides a viable path for individuals navigating an uncertain job market, fostering resilience and entrepreneurial spirit.

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Andronicus E. Muwanguzi
Andronicus Enoch Muwanguzi is a passionate Ugandan writer, novelist, poet and web-developer. He spends his free time reading, writing and jamming to Spotify music.
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