Where Water Runs Dry: Streams of Income in Africa

First thing’s first: there’s an elephant in the room whether or not we’d admit it. Folks are continuing to wonder how something like COVID-19 will hurt African countries the most, or why it hasn’t spread as fast in Africa as it did in the “developed”, “Western” world.

Both questions typically involve an assumption: that the virus should technically kill more Africans because we have a nonexistent or terrible healthcare system.

This is insulting, especially because of sample breakthroughs to contain the spread. 

But worse of all it focuses on the wrong issue.

The real problem is that the limited options most Africans already had to make a decent income are disappearing. 

As I wrote about before, remote work is a luxury only people with consistent and cheap access to power and the Internet can afford. We wasted too much time not building this infrastructure in most African countries.

But when you weren’t in the formal sector to begin with, remote work wouldn’t have been a consideration. When your main source of income is housekeeping or selling produce in the town market, how do you cope when the world totally shuts down face-to-face commerce and interactions?

I have to think this through carefully because I’m working with communities that need PRACTICAL advice and support. People who have barely made over $10 USD a week to feed themselves or their families.

One Sunday I was shopping at the Nairobi Maasai market (about three weeks ago) before borders closed and the spread of COVID-19 got worse. Per usual, a vendor aggressively chased me down to view his beautiful artwork in hopes that I’d buy the priciest. 

I had my eye on one that would cost approximately $50 USD (~5,000 Kenyan shillings) but realized I only had $5 USD on hand.

I thought it was a done deal but then the man begged me to just give him the $5 because he worried this was the only sale he was going to make that day.

What are we doing right now about people like him?

I thought about sharing passive income ideas. That’s the new buzzword in this age of the hustle economy. Passive income, along with several streams of income, is the prescribed panacea for a lack of generational wealth. 

Some of the suggestions include tutoring (online curriculum), blogging, investments, and YouTube (one I promoted in the past). 

Nothing about the economy or livelihood of the average African implies they can be “passive” trying to earn additional income.

“Passive” implies that a person wouldn’t need to do much to start earning from these opportunities. But first you need the capital, then the equipment (i.e. computer), then the services we take for granted elsewhere to even begin to create content or put in place a structure to earn money.

I love being African because I come from a continent where the people don’t quit. We’re anything but laid back, whether we’re throwing parties or crossing seas because we know that means our children will eat. 

But we must cut our brothers and sisters in Africa some slack, and realize that at this point a lot of their efforts are futile in moments like these.

Anyone “stepping their game up” to find some passive income opportunities here in the States may want to figure out how to make passive income opportunities real for those in African countries. One idea is setting up call centers: industry experts have said multiple times that we’re not doing enough to replicate India’s success in this area to provide easy entry-level jobs like these that require little training. To my readers in Africa, I’ll post some available opportunities on my website shortly that you can apply to.

Any readers looking to outsource other types of opportunities to a readership of 3,000+ can send them to me at info@karfi.org and I’ll broadcast them to potential applicants.

As always, let me know your thoughts below and remember – we all aren’t in the same place (financially or geographically) but we’re still all in this together.

What do you think?

I’m thinking of starting a business of my own that solves this problem.

I feel the same way — tired of lower standards that keep Africans at risk economically.

I don’t think you’re seeing the full picture, and I have a different point of view.

IT Matters More Than You Think: Africans & Remote Work

If you didn’t know before, now you know. Information technology (IT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution aren’t just buzzwords; they’re a necessary reality in a world growing more unpredictable.

The latest pandemic, shut down of global travel, and mandatory quarantines in most countries are forcing us to learn how to make remote work happen. It’s no longer a luxury but a necessity to protect us from what’s been decided as the greater evil – the spread of the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, we’ve been operating as if it is a luxury for too long. Corporations aren’t charities, so I don’t blame them for not moving faster to make strong, reliable internet and mobile service accessible to every person, regardless of their ability to pay. But now we’re in a situation where, due to the way capitalism works, the divide that kept billions of Africans far away from wealth generation is just getting wider and wider.

Based on the last report given by PwC, Africa is nowhere near the list of top performers making valuable use of mobile and internet technology to make data-driven economic decisions. 

And unlike the “quick fix” we take for granted in places like the U.S., remote work is less accessible even to most wealthy Africans since investments in strong infrastructure has been deprioritized. Africans have greater access to mobile phones than they do indoor plumbing, and yet the IT infrastructure isn’t reliable enough to make business go on as usual as offices are forced to close for public safety concerns.

The Pew Research Center not only reports that “Sub-Saharan Africa has a lower level of internet use than any other geographic region” (highest was 59% use in South Africa, compared to 89% of Americans) but that even when smartphones are available, “social and entertainment activities are much more common than other uses of mobile phones, such as looking up information.”

The problem hits across access and attitudes – Africans haven’t prepared themselves for a reality where employers and employees develop a culture of productivity that doesn’t require micromanagement or physical interactions, or a culture that revolves around proficiency in using digital tools beyond sending texts and emails.

IT matters are more than just sounding tech-savvy, innovative and trendy. In the words of MTN Senior Enterprise Business Manager, Awwal Abdullahi, the “Internet has become more or less like food now.”

So if we truly want to see Africa revolutionize, and we truly care about eradicating the unnecessary and embarrassing socioeconomic gaps that stubbornly persist in the richest continent in the world (in terms of resources), IT availability has to be taken more seriously as a human rights issue.

I’m seeing many influencers and business websites advising us to use this forced time at home productively – learn a new skill, work on that business plan, and catch up on all those professional and personal goals we keep procrastinating on. 

I give the same advice to our African governments: now that things are slowing down, maybe there’s more time in your schedules to develop a more robust plan to get in line as the future of work continues to go online.

What do you think?

I’m thinking of starting a business of my own that solves this problem.

I feel the same way — tired of lower standards that keep Africans at risk economically.

I don’t think you’re seeing the full picture, and I have a different point of view.