In honour of vendor Katahikire and his colleagues who sell news

Odoobo C. Bichachi

What you need to know:

Thank you UMSWG for celebrating and honouring Katahikire and symbolically, hundreds of his colleagues on the streets that soak in the sun and rain vending news every day.

Tuesday May 3 was World Press Freedom Day marked under the theme “Journalism Under Digital Siege”. Journalists in Uganda have marked the event in different ways at a local and individual level. The national commemorative event, however, was yesterday at Mestil Hotel, Kampala, under the aegis of Uganda Media Sector Working Group (UMSWG).

UMSWG is a recently founded platform with diverse membership that includes journalism practitioners, regulators, media owners, policy makers, civil society, legal fraternity and eminent citizens representing media consumers. It is a multi-sector platform that seeks to restart the conversation on our journalism and how it can be best protected in a framework that also protects the public from rogue journalism and keeps the heavy hand of the state away.

These conversations have only started. At the event, UMSWG also celebrated and conferred awards on three individuals (one corporate) for their contribution to journalism in this country. They were: Uganda Media Women Association (UMWA) for creating a platform that has enabled women journalists to thrive; Mr Ben Bella Illakut for his many years of journalism training and mentoring; and Mr Baylon Katahikire for his long service to the business of journalism as a vendor at the last point-of-sale in the print distribution chain.

I reflect briefly on the latter who. I first met Mr Katahikire in 1995 along Parliament Avenue, Jumbo Corner which was his area of operation and point of contact while selling newspapers. Four colleagues and I (recently graduated and without jobs) had ventured into the world of enterprise and self-employment by setting up a company, Papermarket Uganda Ltd, which sought to “revolutionise” – at least in Uganda – the business of selling newspapers. Our office was on Jumbo House.

Papermarket planned to leverage subscription as its main route of selling newspapers and magazines sitting in the position of an agent and a vendor; delivering door-to-door at the right time and agreed place. The idea was hugely welcomed by the media and consumers and there were many early successes. We inked newspaper supply contracts with Mr Wafula Oguttu, then managing director of Monitor Publications, and Mr Ford Rukyera, then commercial and circulation manager of New Vision Printing and Publishing.

A few months later in our operation, we also inked a contract with Nairobi-based Publishers Distribution Services (PDS), a subsidiary of the Standard Group, which gave us distribution rights for the popular magazines – Readers Digest, Parents and BBC Focus on Africa – that would prove to be stars in the Papermarket shed. Our biggest contract was with the President’s Office, then situated at the left wing of Parliament Building, where we delivered 400 copies of newspapers every morning. 

Mr Katahikire had been a vendor since 1990 and his knowledge of the streets and the business of selling newspapers helped us greatly, particularly our part-time delivery teams that comprised Makerere University students and secondary school dropouts. He was not hostile like some vendors as we signed up subscription contracts with companies and individuals they hitherto supplied within the CBD and in organised housing estates of Bugolobi, Wandegeya and Bukoto. Instead he took advantage of our access to the popular magazines that he got from us at an agent rate and sold to his customers outside our ring.

After one year of business, Papermarket Uganda Ltd ran aground for many reasons I shall not delve into. It has been 27 years since I first met him and I have been many things since then. All this time, we have constantly run into each other (and exchanged courtesies) on the streets in CBD and Industrial Area where he predominantly operates today or occasionally at Daily Monitor vendors’ engagements. He has put in 32 years doing the vital role of delivering the news we curate in newsrooms to the final consumer. From the proceeds, he has seen his two sons graduate at university. Kudos!

Thank you UMSWG for celebrating and honouring Katahikire and symbolically, hundreds of his colleagues on the streets that soak in the sun and rain vending news every day. We hardly think about them as we sit in our air-conditioned offices sipping coffee, pushing the keyboard and feeling important. Yet they are our final link to our readers – at least before the digital onslaught. The Katahikires too are under a digital siege; they are selling less copies because many of their usual customers now read news online which means less money in their pockets.

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