Refugees in remote camp in Kenya are hooking up with the Gig Economy

Working for multinationals from their refuge in Dadaab

World Food Programme Insight
4 min readFeb 6, 2020


Story by Martin Karimi

Mohidin Muktar, one of the successful ‘freelancers’ in Dadaab performing online jobs for companies all over the world. Photo: WFP/Martin Karimi

Mohidin Muktar cuts an image of a man who is firmly in control of his life. He speaks in a calculated and deliberate manner. His face gives away very little, but his gestures suggest that he could be a teacher or a local leader.

But he is neither. Mohidin is a ‘freelancer’ in Dadaab refugee camp in Eastern Kenya, home to 220,000 refugees.

“Freelancing means that you are your own boss,” he says. “You work freely on your own time.”

In his line of work, all the tasks are performed remotely over the internet. Different companies are offering the service that bring together clients and the freelancers. The companies running the back-end of these portals will review the assignment and propose about five of the best matching profiles of freelancers qualified to carry out the task. The client will make the final selection and work will begin.

“My common tasks are in the field of languages,” he says. “I mostly get assignments on translation — Somali to English and the other way around — transcription, and annotation.”

Other common jobs include web research, data entry, graphics design and videography.

“There are many international companies looking to outsource various professional jobs,” says Mohidin.

Raising a family on food rations

During his free time, Mohidin volunteers to help create online profiles for his former classmates — so that they too can start earning. Photo: WFP/Martin Karimi

Mohidin’s family fled violence in Mogadishu, Somali, when he was young boy, seeking refuge across the border in Kenya Now, at the age of 30, he is married and raising four children.

“It is impossible to live a good life and bring up a family while relying on the [food] ration from WFP only,” he says.

“You must look for options, whether working as an incentive worker, loader or a porter, or venturing to the bushes to fetch firewood … if you are strong and healthy, you must find ways of earning an income. All the camps in Dadaab have something to offer.”

So far, Mohidin is staying focused, looking for lucrative online jobs on different platforms.

“I recently landed a translation job that paid 198,000 Kenyan shillings [almost US$1,980] working 20 days,” he says. “The rates vary depending on the clients, but there is a demand for the services we offer.”

Feeding the mind

WFP supports vocational youth centres in Dadaab by providing learners with a free lunch allowing them to concentrate on their studies. Photo: WFP/Martin Karimi

The World Food Programme (WFP) supports the vocational youth centres in Dadaab by providing learners with a free lunch. This allows them concentrate on their studies. Youth in the refugee camps do not have many openings of advancing skills beyond secondary school education.

Under the Kenyan laws, refugees are not allowed to work outside the camps with the lucky ones working for aid agencies as ‘incentive workers’ for a small stipend. Mohidin held several of these jobs before venturing into freelancing.

“If we don’t provide food, learners do not attend afternoon classes — meaning learning hours are reduced,” says Ibrahim Guliye, WFP’s Programme Associate in Dadaab. “The free lunch is also an incentive to keep the youth engaged in productive activities.”

Dadaab has four youth vocational training centres with a capacity of 1,300 students, all run by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The training centres offer an array of courses, including computer packages, tailoring, electrical wiring, carpentry, motor vehicle mechanic, barbering, applying henna decorations, and hair and beauty skills.

In 2020, NRC plans to train 655 learners — half of which are female. WFP will provide them all with a daily hot meal.

With these hand-on skills, youth can venture into the buzzing field of small enterprises in the Dadaab refugee camps.

A childhood dream that won’t die

Mohidin dreams of a time when he can build his own online shopping business back in Somalia. Photo: WFP/Martin Karimi

Having graduated from the freelancing training in 2018, Mohidin is now volunteering to help create online profiles for his former classmates — so that they too can start earning.

“I learnt how to use a computer proficiently at the youth centre,” he says. “I want to help others succeed.”

Mohidin is diligently working his online assignments, but deep down, he always dreamt of becoming a businessman, citing some well-known business people in Dadaab as his role models.

“My freelance job has exposed me to the big world of possibilities. Now I want to build a digital business like Amazon or Jumia — I cannot be content with owning just a shop.”

But he has a back-up plan.

“If your dream is to become a president and you fail, then you wish it for your child to become the president,” offers Mohidin. “I have enrolled by children in a private school so that they can get a better education than I did — it is my job to invest in their future.”

Mohidin carries the dream of opening an online shopping business back in his homeland Somalia, and if he doesn’t, he hopes that his children will.

WFP is supporting refugees in Kenya thanks to the generous contributions from (in alphabetical order): Canada, the European Commission, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Poland, Private Donors, the Russian Federation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UK Aid, and the United States of America.