Uber, Taxify drivers aren’t exploited only in Nigeria. It’s happening in Africa

Uber and Taxify

News of Uber and Taxify drivers embarking on a strike action was first reported over the weekend, but Monday, 19 April, 2021 saw their withdrawal from regular operations. The drivers, under the Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association (PEDPA), are unionising against Uber and Taxify for their demands to be met.

These are failure to review its pay structure given the consequence of the country’s inflation on essential commodities, a reduction on the commission charged on rides from 25% to 10%, welfare packages, compensation for families of drivers’ who died in the line of duty, and other unethical business practices.

One doesn’t need to look deep to arrive at the conclusion that these drivers are being exploited. Granted, the arrival of global ride-sharing services like Uber and Bolt (rechristened later as Taxify) in Nigeria have been a game-changing disruptor in the transportation industry, offering convenient and cheap rides to users once they can navigate the service app.

On employment, it has opened an alternative stream of income for Nigerians as long as they have a functional, service-approved vehicle. Uber and Taxify have risen to be two e-hailing juggernauts in the taxi space just for their unique value proposition, intersecting with the growing technological appetites of Gen-Zers and millennials.

But it has not been all roses. Nigerian drivers working for these taxi companies have referred to how they have been treated as ”systemic slavery.” Interestingly, these patterns of exploitation aren’t specific to Nigeria alone.

Uber and Taxify already have a growing presence in Africa. In its bid for international expansion Uber, headquartered in San Francisco, California, launched in South Africa in 2013 as Africa’s first contact with the service. Since then, it has expanded to Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Uganda. In the same way, the expansion of Estonian ride-hailing service Taxify has hit popular African cities like Johannesburg, Accra and Nairobi. And it has been Uber’s hugest rival, reportedly charging less and its drivers earning more in commisions.

These taxi services in South Africa, however, have been associated with the exploitation of drivers. Last year, South African drivers protested against Uber and Taxify operating at low fares to manipulate demand, charging less with little or nothing for drivers to take home. Drivers in Uganda have similar experiences too. Kenyan drivers are now in debts and struggling financially. Ghanaian drivers protested last year over unfair charges and in 2019, the Tanzania Online Drivers Association (TODA) insisted that it will take Uber and Taxify to court for undermining the welfare of drivers.

Away from drivers’ unfair treatment, what is particularly worrisome is how these transport behemoths have stifled local competitors, with some even running out of business. Not to mention the traditional yellow taxis operating disadvantageously in dense cities like Lagos. Local ride-sharing companies have been mushrooming since the launch of Uber and Taxify in Nigeria but with decreasing patronage.

Evidently, the operations of Uber and Taxify in Nigeria and Africa, by extension, have been hinged on an exploitative business model that channels the labour of its drivers for better profit margins for its owners. It’s also a study on how technology can be a tool for exploiting working class labour under capitalism. Should Uber and Taxify leave Nigeria/Africa in the future, it will be on the account of unions protesting and organising for better working conditions for drivers.

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