For NBC News, an investigation into how Uber colonized Kenya, based on interviews with more than 80 taxi drivers, as well as dozens of corporate sources, academics, historians, labor activists, bank tellers, car sales people, lawyers, and union leaders in Nairobi and Mombasa. These hundreds of conversations, supported by documentation, show that drivers on the Uber app are drowning in debt to finance cars they leased, sometimes via programs facilitated by Uber, to work full-time, to the point that their labor is essentially indentured servitude. The company came to Kenya, a country of densely populated cities without efficient public transportation, and aggressively signed up drivers while increasing ridership by dropping prices. Uber is perhaps the byword for the phrase “disruptive company” but in Kenya it has followed suit of scores of other multinationals in repurposing centuries old colonial structures with their extractive model. What's more, Uber has taken advantage of the massive unemployment to offer a false safety net to acquire drivers so that the brand dominates the market share in a “frontier economy."
Uber is a contentious company. Around the world, driver experiences follow similar trajectories, and many of the macro problems that have emerged after Uber embeds itself speak to structural problems that plague global society. But, the issues surfaced also say something about each place, individually. In many ways, Kenya was a country created for a company like Uber, and the government that took over from the British administration has since managed it accordingly. Kenya was the last country in East Africa to achieve independence. Today the British have still ruled Kenya for longer than it’s been a sovereign nation. When they relinquished formal political control, the state remained economically focused on international interests. Speaking anonymously, one former corporate employee asked, "What do you do when you have basically a country or a whole continent on the supply side where people will basically work under any conditions—where you can do whatever the f**k you want?"