Freelancing in Africa: A Growing Trend On the Continent

Freelancing is rapidly growing across Africa. This way of working provides a variety of opportunities, for both men and women, that run parallel with the economic dynamism that the continent is currently experiencing.

An increasing number of companies are choosing this new model of employment.  In a study conducted by financial services company Payoneer, around 21,000 freelancers from 170 countries around the globe were interviewed. The report shows that Africa holds 10.1% of the world’s freelancers – and could continue to grow.

Freelance work can be found across sectors: from economics and graphic design, to translation, writing, photography, and computer science.

Younger generations are wanting to define their own career path and work hours, which translates to companies having difficulty in finding candidates ready to conform to traditional employment policies.

The rise of self-employment in Africa today is structural. The economy of countries on the continent has changed, along with the means by which to create added value to work.

The business models of traditional companies have been challenged by the double blow of the virtual economy and globalization, which are spreading rapidly throughout the continent. In addition, new professions have emerged alongside the development of the web economy over the past ten years. These professions, which are not dynamic in terms of job creation, have one thing in common: it only takes a computer and an internet connection to be able to get to work. We can work anywhere, at any time.

Intellectual and creative professions that are boosted by a web culture of sharing and collaborative work often push businesses to imagine other models of organization, along with new forms of management. This model of employment suits the current generation of youth – without too much hierarchy, of course. It is a revolution that is changing the classical organization of the workplace. Being one’s own boss, creating one’s own job, and independently working from home is becoming increasingly attractive in Africa.

A Trend Attracting African Youth

The job market in most African countries today, especially for young graduates, is difficult. Without being able to find a job that suits them, young graduates are rapidly moving towards the creation of their own personal activity. For the more experienced, this can be in combination with a job or retirement. As for young people, it is an alternative to the classic job search, and a solution that can overcome the problem of unemployment.

In cities across Africa, many workers are turning to freelancing and self-employment. Some of them leave their full-time jobs, either in the public or the private sector, in order to set up  their own projects. Sometimes this choice is made without  a guarantee of being able to derive a sufficient income.

Ndom Fabrice, a 34-year-old Ivorian freelancer.

Ndom Fabrice, a 34-year-old Ivorian freelancer, thinks freelance jobs can be helpful to many unemployed graduates. Specializing in scientific data, Fabrice holds a Master’s Degree in Biotechnology. Her thesis included two components – biology and computer science. A PhD in bioinformatics was a logical continuation for her career, yet Fabrice states “I decided to stop, because I noticed that there were more freelance opportunities in IT than in biology.

Fabrice had a full-time job opportunity to work in the IT department at a local company in her country, but he refused.

“I decided to work as A freelancer, looking for temporary tasks so that I can work with different companies at the same time. For some people, a full-time job is better, but things have changed; we should adapt ourselves to  these changes ,” he expresses.

The same view is also shared by Ahmed Zaitouni, president of “Tunis Freelancers Club” in Tunisia. He thinks that freelancing will be the new way of working in Africa within the next two decades. According to a study conducted by the club in 2016, the fast-growing sectors of new technologies, renewable energies, public services, and communications are all encouraging young people to have their own projects, thus working with different companies and customers at the same time.

“It is a model that attracts more young people in North Africa who have finally understood that the public sector cannot employ all of them. Therefore, freelance jobs can help them have an income,” explained Zaitouni, who also believes that “A full-time job limits freedom, development, and innovation.”

For this generation of web entrepreneurs, the traditional model of the employment contract – the relationship of subordination with an employer – is not necessarily of great interest. These experts earn more by working freelance, and can continue to progress and learn much faster independently.

Toufik Bougarne, director and founder of PsdMaroc Magazine, is a famous Moroccan freelance designer with more than 13 years of experience in the fields of design, branding, and typography. Fortunately, there are a variety of sectors in Morocco where freelancers can innovate and build successful careers. Graphic Design, according to Bougarne, is one of the areas where talented young people can either work alone, or with a company; they just need to have a laptop and an imagination that shows their intellectual and emotional abilities.  He stressed that young people can be successful freelancers if they can create a good relationship with the client and have the required technical capabilities, in addition to having the ability of self-marketing.

“I think individuals and companies have finally understood that freelance can solve a lot of problems. This is also good for companies in terms of cost, as freelancing work costs a little less than a full-time employee. Freelancers cannot compete with companies, but they would rather cooperate with them. The development of freelance starts from the freelancer himself. It starts with organizing  the  tools of work and time, and ends with finalizing the end product to meet the needs of the customer. It is essential for young freelancers to know how to do self-marketing, and how to search for business partners – whether they are individuals, institutions, or companies”, says Bougarne.

An Employment Model That Suits Companies

For the past few years, both African and international companies based in Africa have had to adapt to the sector’s new trends. The various market players seem to have agreed on the interest of working with freelancers. By simply browsing recruitment sites, one can see companies’ growing interest for freelancing contracts. The ads are posted everywhere, and the contenders are just as numerous.  This new model is shaking up today’s business world, because companies are always looking for new and flexible talent to start a collaboration with. In addition, a signature and an invoice can suffice easier, and more practical, than the administrative burden of conventional hiring. It is the same when it comes to salaries, as Zaitoni pointed out:

“In the study we conducted in Tunis Freelancers’ Club, we found out that a freelancer costs 30% less than a regular employee. Companies now prefer to hire freelancers, and have even developed a contract to a specific mission or over a specific period, because they are generally less costly. This is better for them than hiring permanent employees who cost more in terms of security, benefit coverage and retirement.”

It is easier for a company to check the expertise of freelancers before starting a collaboration as well. By contacting one’s former freelance clients, consulting the freelancers portfolio, or simply by observing his/her activity and contributions on the web, the process is simple. Moreover, far from being scattered over several fields of qualifications, freelancers have the specificity of staying at the forefront in their areas of expertise. Choosing a freelancer generally means having a seasoned professional.

Today, African companies are working on the digitalization of their activities to meet the needs of the international markets. Therefore, the situation is speeding up the use of self-employed workers. Bruce Cooper, the Executive Administrator of the Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA), says that the changes in various business domains drivesome African companies’ to adopt the freelancing model.

Bruce Cooper, the Executive Administrator of the Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA)

“In the wake of news and information becoming more accessible and available online, the media print industry has been in slow decline. Consequently, there have been many retrenchments in that sector, compelled by companies needing to downsize. Some of the retrenched have turned to freelancing for an alternative income, and we’ve admitted new members into our association because of this”, revealed Cooper.

Cooper adds that lifestyle changes are also a reason for workers to move into the freelance economy, or the ‘gig economy’ as it is now popularly known as. Many find that working from home offers more freedom and flexibility in their domestic life, as well as in their careers. They are no longer stifled by corporate protocol and authority, and can fulfill their potential in ways that they couldn’t while employed by a corporation.

“Rather than carry the costs of staff positions, employers are turning to freelancers or contractors to fill their requirements,” Cooper explained.

Limits and Challenges

Freelancing in Africa is still emerging and growing. Becoming self-employed offers a lot of freedom, but it also requires a sense of rigor and a level of responsibility that cannot be escaped.

It is obvious that this mode of recruitment can have limits, especially if it leads to more precariousness. For some companies, opting for a freelancer to finish a mission that requires full-time work may not achieve the desired objectives. Failures can also occur in the opposite direction.

Another limit that can appear is the inability of the freelancer to integrate into the culture of the company, which can negatively impact performance. This can be seen on the African continent where economic activity is not yet fully developed in some countries.

For freelancers, finding the right status and getting enough income is not done overnight. Some freelancers do well, but may not have the same social protection as employees. This is because the social protection system is not yet adapted to this new situation. It is the same when it comes to retirement. Few self-entrepreneurs manage to find a private agency to look after their retirement. Additionally, in finding missions and projects, it is especially the network that counts. In absence of guidance and professional accompaniment, the African freelancer is alone in control, can only rely on themselves, and spends a lot of energy and skills to accomplish all their tasks.

As a freelancer, it is necessary to manage the accounting, payment of invoices, declare turnover, ensure expenses are paid, and keep following the legal updates and changes in  laws. In addition, the freelancer should do every task that is done by the different departments in a company. They should always be looking for new clients. A freelancer has to fight every moment and show determination to succeed.

Today in Africa, many freelancers unite in clubs and associations to help each other do well and overcome the challenges. Southern African Freelancers’ Association is an example of one of the associations that contributes to the development of freelancing in Africa. SAFREA aims: to promote the interests of freelance professionals in the written, visual, or broadcast field, to foster solidarity and excellence among freelancers, to promote cooperation in all matters of common concern, to stimulate professional standards and ethical conduct in both freelancers and employers, to provide information that will help freelancers negotiate suitable payments and contracts, to provide a forum for the dissemination of information useful to freelancers and prospective clients, and, finally, to serve as the collective voice of freelance media professionals in the Southern African region.

Despite some disadvantages, freelancing is quite beneficial for both companies and workers. Will we all be freelancers in a few years? Probably no, but the trend is growing. An Intuit study shows that more than 40% of paid jobs in the United States will be self-employed by 2025, which represents 60 million people. Obviously and logically, the same situation will occur in Africa.

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