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The Realities and Challenges of Refugee Youths in Tech and Online Jobs in Kenya

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

With the rising cost of living and increased taxes in Kenya, youths are forced to be creative and find ways to make a living outside the office and online. This is especially true for youths with digital skills competing with millions of other young adults to work with the few Tech companies in Kenya.

Among the top picks for the youthful Kenyan population are self-employment via online jobs that preferably pay through mobile money. Or, entrepreneurship away from digital platforms, which also requires financial literacy and discipline. However, having skills in tech has a different turn for youths in Kakuma Refugee camp located in Northern Kenya. They do have options, but because of the context, their options become limited.

According to *John who took vocational training in digital literacy at RAI center,

"I joined Basic training in ICT after I finished my national examinations last year. After the three months, I tried to venture into online jobs. I could not open a freelancer account as a tech developer on a platform popular with youths in Kenya. My refugee ID was not recognized by the platform's system."

*Ian, another youth who lives in Kakuma 3 and holds a certificate in website programming from a well-known coding institution in the camp, shares a similar story. He says,

"I did enjoy coding for 6 months in the technology bootcamp in Lodwar. Once I got my certificate, I came back to Kakuma with plans to become a self-employed software developer. I joined a refugee youth network in Kakuma as a freelancer working on online gigs. However, I faced difficulties receiving payments through mobile money. Because of this, I had to find an alternative source of income, which was training other youths interested in technology as a facilitator in local institutions."

These two statements reflect countless stories shared under similar circumstances among refugee youths in tech.


Resilience Action International
Students learning IT at RAI center

The lack of capital to purchase necessary digital devices is a significant barrier for these youths. With the rise in living costs, consumer items considered as luxury have increased tax rates, resulting in high prices. Youths struggle to raise enough money through odd jobs to buy equipment for online ventures.

Limited infrastructure within the camp poses another challenge. Due to the rural location and harsh environmental conditions, internet connection and coverage by service providers have been poor. Additionally, the camp has few cyber centers, and many homes are not connected to electricity or an adequate source of power.

Expensive internet subscriptions also hinder their ability to sustain online work. The rise in taxes and the cost of living has led to inflation, making it difficult for youths to afford paying for cyber services for an extended period. Purchasing home internet has also become a financial burden, with increased pricing consuming a large portion of their earnings, leaving little for self-development.

Insecurity is a pressing concern as well. Cases of break-ins in homes and businesses have been reported in the camp, making it difficult for youths with online jobs to safely store or use their devices in some areas.

Lack of understanding and awareness of income tax obligations in Kenya. Online job platforms often do not provide clear guidance on tax requirements, leaving youths uncertain about their responsibilities. This lack of awareness can lead to potential legal issues and financial burdens if they are not compliant with income tax regulations.

Furthermore, many online jobs in Kenya require payment through mobile money platforms such as Mpesa. While this payment method is convenient for many, it presents challenges for refugee youths who may not have valid identification documents or access to formal financial services. Without the necessary documentation, they may face difficulties in creating and verifying mobile money accounts, limiting their ability to receive payments for their online work.

Lastly, inadequate workspaces contribute to the challenges faced by refugee youths. There are few designated work areas in the camp, away from distractions and noises, where they can focus on their online work.

These realities and challenges highlight the uphill battle faced by refugee youths with digital skills and online jobs in Kakuma. Despite their talent and aspirations, they are confronted with systemic barriers that limit their opportunities for economic growth and success. Addressing these issues requires collective efforts from organizations, policymakers, and the community to create an enabling environment where these youths can thrive and access the digital economy.


* these are pseudonyms to protect identities of interviewees.

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