NAIROBI — After losing his job at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya in March 2020, Kevin Musila turned to online writing for survival.
Musila, who was working as a tour guide, was asked to take leave when establishments in the sector closed due to the pandemic but was later sacked as the crisis prolonged.Feeling betrayed by the “off-line business”, Musila saw hope on the internet after a friend showed him how to make money online.”It took me about a week to learn how to do online writing, which included opening my own account and bidding for jobs,” he told Xinhua.
A year later, Musila makes about 40,000 shillings (368 U.S. dollars) a month from the online job, which has enabled him to sustain life amid the pandemic.”The disease made me realize there are other opportunities outside offline jobs. I am comfortable now and don’t think I would want to go back to an offline job where risks are high,” he said.
The online jobs are among opportunities that have helped Kenyans and other citizens across Africa survive amid the pandemic.They represent a surge in the internet economy in the continent, where most services are now done online, with the pandemic has led to a huge shift.Citizens are not only working online but also shopping, paying for bills, selling various items, applying for loans, banking cash and studying.
The International Finance Corporation, a World Bank arm, predicts an exponential surge of online economic activities in Africa, to hit a high of 180 billion dollars by 2025. Increased investment in online infrastructure, rising mobile connectivity, urbanization, high technology talent and favorable regulation are among the things to drive the growth, according to IFC.
Joseph Macharia, the founder of Mkulima Young, an agricultural online marketplace, describes Africa’s digital economy as full of opportunities.”But you have to identify those opportunities that fit your settings. That is what I did with Mkulima Young,” he said.Most of the online opportunities, according to him, are sustainable for the long term.”Online gigs are becoming the norm, the jobs have been accelerated by the unpredictable future or an event that we did not know existed. The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly the black swan that has pushed the creation of online gigs,” he said.
While the faster surge in the digital economy has largely been accelerated by the pandemic, he noted that it is being shaped by technological, social, political, environmental, and legal trends. “One of the legal challenges affecting the online economy is taxation. Various countries are instituting legislation to tax online transactions which may stifle growth. But my take is if enterprises are making money out of the digital economy, they should pay governments taxes,” he said.
Kenya is among the countries that have started to tax surging online economic activities to boost its revenue. Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solutions, a software development start-up in Nairobi, noted that the online economy in Africa has grown faster than the offline economy in recent years as the two complement each other, catching some governments’ awareness. “Some governments in Africa are yet to start taxing online economy activities, others are making baby steps but the fact is that the online economy in Africa is now worth billions of dollars,” he said.
If Africa continues to have the right ingredients that include cheaper internet, increased adoption of smartphones, shrinking offline opportunities and a highly educated population, the online economy would catch up with offline economic activities. “Certainly the pandemic has pushed thousands online but that is just what was needed for the sector to take off as people can now see the tens of opportunities in the internet,” he said.