Investopedia describes digital nomads as “people who are location-independent and use technology to perform their job, living a nomadic lifestyle.” The term is said to have been popularised in a Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners book aptly named The Digital Nomad, published in 1997. The book foreshadowed how technology would allow people to revert to a nomadic way of life with the shift towards digitization.
Digital nomads pride themselves on being rovers, unbound by the confines of an office or establishment. The recent boom of remote jobs in the past few years has further bolstered the popularity of digital nomadism among those seeking adventure and a sense of freedom while still pursuing their careers.
How Did Digital Nomads Come To Be?
The spread of COVID-19 in 2020, which resulted in a pandemic, ushered in what was coined “the new normal” – a new way of life influenced by the need to adapt to quarantine and lockdown regulations. Many of these “new normals” have lingered around post-pandemic, including work-from-home (WFH)/remote jobs. Under instruction, offices and various establishments deemed as “non-essential” were shut down to curb the spread of the CoronaVirus. Therefore, companies looked to digitise day-to-day operations, and employees could continue to work remotely through apps like Zoom and Google Teams.
Why Do People Choose Digital Nomadism?
Digital nomads enter nomadism for different reasons, but the most common factor is the love for travel. Digital nomads are globetrotters who thrive on the exhilarating newness of unknown territory. A digital nomad’s life is borderless, which satisfies their hunger for new experiences in new countries and learning about their cultures. Usually, digital nomads come from developed countries and frequently visit developing countries, which means they can take great advantage of certain host countries’ lower cost of living, slower-paced living and tourist attractions.
Digital Nomadism In An African Context
There has been a spike in Western travellers interested in exploring Africa. With platforms like YouTube and, more recently, TikTok, travel content creators gain an audience interested in keeping up with their worldly pursuits through reviews, vlogs etc. One example of this type of content is from travel content creator Mark (@marcreator on TikTok). Mark asks the question, “Can You Afford To Live Your Best Life In Cape Town (South Africa)” and proceeds to list how much it would cost (in Dollars) to enjoy the Western Cape city. He categorises his video into four factors: food, housing, transport and lifestyle.
To a foreigner, the costs sound reasonable or borderline cheap. However, to the locals, Cape Town is anything but cheap. For food, Mark features a local Cape Tonian who claims she spends roughly $200 on food a week which converts to a whopping R3 750.
This is what these travellers experience armed with a stronger Dollar or Euro to whichever African country they visit with a weaker currency.
The Possible Impact on Africa
One comment under Mark’s video reads: “And this is why Cape Town becomes more and more expensive for the locals, don’t get me wrong we love our tourists but brooo.” While people are encouraged to visit different countries to boost the economy through tourism activity, there are adverse effects from their presence that locals, especially, bear the weight of.
Many host countries have complained about how digital nomads drive up locals’ living costs. Euronews published an article in 2022 titled: Overtourism: As digital nomads flock to Mexico City, locals face rising rents which chronicles the frustrations of Mexico City residents. Mexico City is the fifth fastest-growing digital nomad hub, and unfortunately, this title comes with the grand issue of gentrification, rent inflation and increased evictions. Furthermore, establishments find themselves evicted to make space for apartments.
It is reported that roughly a third of Mexico City residents resorted to moving homes in 2020 due to expensive rent. “Those who are too quick to celebrate the benefits of remote working should be more sensitive to the nuanced impacts of WFH on minorities and gentrification,” commented Antonio M Bento, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California, on the matter.
It is plausible to preempt that this could also happen to African cities in a matter of time. Strict rules against unlawful eviction and inflation of rents could ensure that tenants are protected, as residents of Mexico City have expressed that the issue is not with the digital nomads but with the sudden shift from landlords who care more about accommodating foreigners and earning more money.