TikTok for income in Kenya amid job challenges

Youth in Kenya turn to street photography, TikTok for income amid job challenges


Strolling through streets in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, people are likely to observe a vibrant youth presence, especially on Sundays when the bustling city typically experiences a lull in foot traffic.

A closer look at these lively gatherings reveals groups of people posing for photographs, choreographers devising dance routines, and TikTokers creating the latest TikTok trends.

Austine Oyugi (24) and Awadh Salim (26), who were setting up their photography gear for a photo shoot, demonstrated the enduring popularity of this timeless art among Kenya’s youth.

This dynamic duo has been engaged in street photography for nearly a year, following the challenges of securing employment after their university graduation in 2022.

“After Governor of Nairobi Johnson Sakaja lifted the mandatory photography fee in late 2022, people began coming to the streets to take photos, and my friend and I joined in,” said Oyugi, who holds a degree in actuarial science. “Salim had a camera from campus, and both of us honed our skills by watching YouTube tutorials.”

Before Nairobi’s streets transformed into a photography haven for the youth, obtaining a photography and videography permit involved a cumbersome and costly process. It required obtaining a license from the Kenya Films and Classification Board at a cost of dozens of U.S. dollars, notifying the police, and making numerous visits to the local administrator’s office for a single day of shooting.

Some of these regulations are outdated, and the government of Nairobi has waived all business permits for freelance photographers and filmmakers in the city, said Sakaja when issuing the directive in September 2022, adding that additionally, all the daily shooting fees have been abolished.

Today, the two friends have acquired substantial equipment that has improved the quality of their work.

On a good day, they can photograph up to 30 people, with each photo costing 0.65 dollars. The photos are immediately shared with clients via WhatsApp, making this their primary source of income.

Salim said he frequently approached passersby for impromptu photoshoots. He emphasized the importance of being convincing and effectively communicating with customers by showcasing their previous work to earn their trust.

On the other end of the street, young Kenyans are found to create and share videos on the popular social media app TikTok. Here, dozens of youngsters perform dance routines and record them using their smartphones.

Janet Kyalo, a student majoring in tourism and management, seizes the opportunity to incorporate Nairobi’s skyscrapers as her TikTok background. She appreciates the clean streets and the architecture, which adds a unique touch to her videos.

Kyalo noted that many people have lost interest in studio videos, finding them repetitive. She and her friends typically convene from 2 p.m. onward and stay until 7 p.m. These sessions offer an excellent opportunity for networking and building connections that can be pivotal in their careers.

Cliff Dawiga, a 25-year-old who recently quit his job as a vehicle mechanic due to inadequate earnings, has been shooting for a little over two months. Fueled by his childhood passion for photography, he purchased a used camera with his savings and started capturing portraits.

“After hearing that the governor had removed limitations on creatives, I bought the camera. However, it stayed unused in my house for two months before I began using it,” Dawiga said. Building confidence, he began using it on the streets, capturing portraits from Tuesday to Sunday, with weekends being the busiest.

“The pay is decent, and we’re not harassed by county police, allowing us to work smoothly. On rare occasions, like when it rains, we face some inconveniences,” Dawiga noted.

With approximately 800,000 Kenyan youths entering the job market each year, according to the National Council for Population Report 2023, the available economic opportunities, both formal and informal, fall short of meeting their needs. In this context, emerging crafts such as street photography are likely to evolve into profitable ventures for the youthful demographic in the near future.

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