From Washington DC to New Delhi and from London to Cape Town, platforms like Uber and Bolt are connecting drivers with customers for taxi rides. This is commonly referred to as ‘ride-hailing’ and has emerged as one of the main alternatives to public transport in the low-and middle-income regions or the Global South. Ride-hailing provides income-earning opportunities for workers who cannot find jobs elsewhere. Yet, this work is also fraught with risks. The current pandemic has shown that in commoditized and market-mediated employment relations, the risk is borne by labour who cannot work from home (Anwar, 2020). At the same time, ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Bolt misclassify drivers as self-employed, thus avoiding regulation (Kessler, 2018). Therefore, this chapter examines the livelihood impacts of the pandemic and lockdown on ride-hailing drivers in Kenya and South Africa, two of the biggest markets in Africa for these services.
The ride-hailing sector has grown tremendously in the last few years in Africa. An estimated 81 ride-hailing platforms now enable movement of people from one place to another. While estimates on the number of people working in this sector are hard to come by, the 2018 figures suggest 216,000 workers in the ride-hailing sector in just seven countries on the continent (Insight2impact, 2018). Alongside some of the big international companies (for example, Uber, Bolt, inDriver), several local platforms have emerged as well, for example, Oga Taxi in Nigeria, Safe Boda in Kenya, and Yookoo Rides and Hailer in South Africa. Having said that, Uber and Bolt dominate the market with operations in most major economies of the continent: Uber currently operates in 24 cities across nine countries, while Bolt has operations in 64 cities across seven countries. These two companies (both foreign in origin) have become go-to platforms for drivers.
The growth of the ride-hailing sector is part of the wider trend in the gig economy across Africa which has emerged as an alternative to traditional employment (Anwar and Graham, 2020). While various gig economy sectors (including ridehailing) are equated with precarious employment in the Global North (Rosenblat and Stark, 2016; Cant, 2019; Ravenelle, 2019), it is often received with overly positive connotations in the Global South (see Rockefeller Foundation, 2014; Kuek et al, 2015).