Thousands if not millions, of Kenyans, earn a living through their smartphone
- Taxi drivers and cloth sellers are among the people who have created their own jobs through smartphone use
- A report by the Communications Authority of Kenya covering the first quarter of the 2021/2022 financial year revealed that one of every two Kenyans has a smartphone
Without a doubt, smartphones are helping thousands if not millions of Kenyans and around the world to make a living. In fact, a Statista report shows that the mobile ecosystem employed 26 million people globally in 2021, with a whopping 12 million being employed directly in the mobile industry.
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Locally, data shows that half of the Kenyan population owns a smartphone. A report by the Communications Authority of Kenya covering the first quarter of the 2021/2022 financial year revealed that one of every two Kenyans has a smartphone. Broken down, the report noted that the number of active mobile subscriptions was 64.9 million as of September 2021.
This means that countless Kenyans are making a living thanks to the use of smartphones. The Exchange Africa spoke to three Kenyans who explained how such devices have helped them earn a living.
Faith Muturi said she primarily makes money from her smartphone.
“I sell clothes. I used to have a physical shop, but the cost of living became too high after the pandemic. I was forced to close the shop and now operate an online store,” she said.
Faith added that thanks to the huge online following of her shop, she has been able to sustain the business.
“I forfeited paying rent and licenses. I usually store the clothes in my house, I sell on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp,” she said.
She is not alone. Kamau Ken said he also makes a living on his smartphone. He said he has several ride-hailing apps on his phone, including Uber, Bolt and Little.
“To me, my smartphone is my jembe. Without it, I cannot make a living. Despite the challenges, this job pays my rent, food and school fees for my children,” he told The Exchange Africa.
His sentiments matched those of Paul Peter, who operates a real estate company. Paul said he runs a social media page that allows people looking for houses to rent to find a home.
He said he works with landlords who allow him to take photos of the houses, which he posts online. There, willing tenants take up the houses, from which he earns a commission.
“This is how I make a living. Initially, it was really difficult. But now I have grown my business, I have a database of landlords and tenants. I started with a smartphone, and I now have an office and two employees,” he said.
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Their innovativeness comes amid grim statistics indicating that 5.7% of Kenya’s labour force was out of work in 2021 per World Bank data. This was up from 2.8% in 2013.
Millions in informal sector use smartphones to earn a living
A 2020 report by GSMA noted that the mobile industry employed 1.9 million people directly and over 2.4 million in the broader mobile ecosystem in 2018 in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The study added that three out of five people (1.2 million) directly employed by the mobile industry worked in the informal sector, predominantly associated with informal distribution (e.g. airtime resellers). Meanwhile, the formal sector employs nearly 700,000 people.
“By 2025, total direct employment in the sector is expected to grow by 26 per cent, accounting for 2.4 million jobs, 500,000 of which will be new jobs,” the report noted.
“The split between the formal and informal sectors is expected to remain until 2025, with the informal sector expected to employ 1.5 million people. The formal distribution and retail sector will account for the largest proportion of formal jobs (530,000 direct jobs) in 2025,” it added.
Operating online businesses
Without a doubt, smartphones have also contributed to the growth of e-commerce in Kenya and around the world.
Studies have shown that smartphone usage has impacted the sector positively. A finding by MDG Solutions observes that smartphones have driven the expansion of e-commerce. As per the report, smartphones influence shopping behaviours as well as purchasing behaviours.
To echo those sentiments, Airduka CEO Abdul Varvany said that in deed smartphones were transforming the sector. “A majority of sellers on e-commerce platforms use smartphones in their operations. Whether its checking customers’ inquiries or even sharing products on social media,” he said.
He added that buyers are also propelling the growth of e-commerce as they mostly make purchases from e-commerce platforms from their smartphones,” he added.
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Quality of smartphone camera crucial
Commenting on the same, Fredrique Achieng’, the Public Relations Manager of OPPO Kenya, said smartphones would continue to support job creation, especially among the youth.
She encouraged the youth, especially those seeking work, to find creative ways of using the devices to their advantage.
“We have seen countless youths make a living thanks to smartphones. I believe we still have a long way to go,” she said. Frederique spoke during the launch of OPPO Reno8 T.
Frederique said the company remains committed to launching high-quality phones that can encourage creativity.
“With this new smartphone, our focus as OPPO was to provide our users with an ultra-clear imaging system. The OPPO Reno8 T 5G features a 108MP camera. This is an extremely important feature for anyone using the smartphone, whether for personal or professional purposes,” she said.
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Mobile industry worldwide
Locally and internationally, smartphones are not just helping create jobs but also building companies and propelling technology. A 2016 finding indicates that the total number of apps downloaded that year neared 100 billion. The finding noted that the average user navigates through over 30 apps a month.
“Most users spend the largest amount of time in messaging and social media, but game apps produce the most revenue followed by video services, such as Netflix,” the finding said.