Personal transportation service Uber, the poster child company of the global “gig economy,” has achieved many milestones on the African continent over the last four years, but not without significant controversy and disputes. From its corporate offices in San Francisco, Uber has established operations in eight African countries and acquired nearly two million active users who have installed the Uber smartphone app to hail rides from drivers who work as independent contractors.
South Africa has proven itself to be the largest African market for Uber; this is where almost half of the market share resides. The second most attractive market is Kenya, where more than 5,000 drivers have registered to provide personal transportation services to more than 350,000 users of the Uber app. Other African nations where Uber has a significant market include Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tanzania, and Uganda.
As in many other jurisdictions around the world, the Silicon Valley firm has encountered regulatory issues and resistance from local transportation industry leaders in Africa. In the South African region of Gauteng, for example, Uber drivers have been physically assaulted by protesters associated with the regulated metered taxi authority. Uber cars have been destroyed by arsonists, prompting the tech firm to roll out social media features for riders to share their trips with friends and relatives. Representatives from Uber have asked law enforcement agencies in Gauteng to intervene and provide rider safety; police officers have answered the call even as the Ministry of Transportation issued a reminded that Uber drivers must obtain certain permits or risk having their vehicles impounded.
In Kenya, the protests from the regulated transportation networks against Uber have not been as heated as in South Africa; nonetheless, the company’s resolution to slash fares for the purpose of increasing competition has prompted discord among Uber drivers who are now calling themselves “Uber slaves.” Kenya is a very attractive market for Uber because the population has proven to be tech-savvy and welcoming of mobile apps and services; to this effect, the company recently announced a partnership with the Visa payment network to develop a series of e-commerce ventures to take market share away from the extremely popular M-PESA mobile payments system.
The future of Uber in Africa is still largely unknown. In the wake of the company’s loss of legal status in London, the company will try to retain its footprint in as many international markets as possible with the hopes of one day turning a profit, something that has thus far proven elusive.