Colombia's 'Rappitenderos' — On The Dark Side Of Uberization

Orange-clad couriers working for the delivery firm Rappi are ubiquitous in Bogota. They're also poorly paid, unorganized and in the way

'Rappi' near Bogota, Colombia
"Rappi" near Bogota, Colombia
Piedad Bonnet


BOGOTÁ — Hundreds of men sit around on the pavement, on steps or on a patch of grass. They're like an army, almost always in groups, with their equipment beside them. Some eat snacks from their lunchboxes. Mostly they're just waiting for their marching orders.

They're rappitenderos, delivery people and couriers who work for the South American startup Rappi. And they're everywhere, like an invading force. They're also archetypes of the so-called "sharing economy." Firms present them not as employees but independent entrepreneurs who find, in some platform or website, an opportunity for extra cash. In reality, they're youngsters without jobs, and since they have no employer, strictly speaking, they find it difficult to organize themselves to form a union or push collective demands.

For desperate people, Rappi is often just something to cling to. Its precarious conditions have already prompted complaints: you must buy your own uniform and case, and use your bicycle or motorbike. In exchange, they receive a delivery fee and tips.

Rappitenderos are a symptom of the paths being taken by a ruthless form of capitalism.

They are a symptom of the paths being taken by a ruthless form of capitalism, and above all of the scale of unemployment, especially among younger people. They illustrate how badly hundreds of people need to work, whatever the conditions, come rain or shine, amid fierce competition and forever diminishing fees. "We sometimes work for 12 hours, getting just three deliveries," one rappitendero told the weekly news magazine Semana.

These people are a sign of how you can start a firm with minimal capital and infrastructure, relying on nothing but a workforce and the law of supply and demand. One reads in the website Las2orillas that Rappi's office workers need to bring their own electronic equipment, and there is no cafeteria or breaks. The rappitenderos have also become an obstruction on pavements and potentially hazardous to pedestrians.

Online tech firms have come to stay. They have many advantages, so it is no longer about stopping, but regulating them. They need a bit of order and restriction, if only to protect their workers and the public space. Curiously, while Rappi is allowed to get away with so much, alternative transportation projects have either faced legal action, like Uber, or the rigorous imposition of usage rules, as with scooters.

With the latter, these are light, aesthetic and above all a valid response to traffic jams, and now they want to expel them from pavements and practically all public spaces. In other words, put them out of people's reach. The Bogotá transport authority has said they need to create rental kiosks for scooters on the street, and expects a single firm to be given a citywide license. That means they want a monopoly.

Worse still — and something we don't see in other countries — is that users will not be allowed to leave their scooters where they end their trip or nearby, but must leave them at designated stations. This effectively nullifies their utility and discourages a healthy initiative, which if properly overseen and controlled, would be an excellent option for so many.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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