Mombasa,KENYA: As early as 8am every week day, a small crowd mills around the knee-high wooden newspaper stand positioned under a roadside tree, to buy a newspaper or catch a glimpse of the day’s headlines.
Seated behind the stand in a blue jacket and dark brown trousers, is Mzee Jackton Oteng’o Nambaka, 68, a popular figure along Mombasa’s Moi avenue, from where he has sold newspapers and magazines for the past 46 years.
The father of six starts his day very early in the morning when he heads to the general post office building within the central business district, to pick his batch of newspapers after they are dropped from the capital, Nairobi, then proceeds to his Canon Towers station that has been his home for years.
At the time he started selling newspapers in 1972, he says, a copy of the mainstream dailies was retailing at 5 shillings only , and the price would eventually rise up to 20 shillings in the 90s.
Oteng’o describes selling 800 copies of newspapers a day during the ‘good old days’, as a walk in the park.
“People had money my friend, but today, I am saddened,” he says, carrying a Standard newspaper to a client waiting in a car.
He blames technological advancement in mobile telephony, internet and social media, for the drastic decline in newspaper sales, saying besides radio and television, newspapers were the sole source of information at the time and thus vending was a coveted business venture.
“Even some offices where I used to supply three or four newspapers per day no longer take them. Others have reduced to just one or two,” says the old man.
“People are reading news on phones and computers and have spoilt our business.”
He is however grateful that he has been able to educate all his children, three girls and three boys, through proceeds from newspaper vending.
At the current price of 60 shillings per newspaper, the old man says he makes about 7.50 shillings per copy, the reason he must sell many copies to meet his needs.
THE DAY SALES BOOMED
The evening of August 14th, 1992 remains fresh in Oteng’o’s memory when he made record sales following a breaking story.
On that day, former anti-colonial activist and politician Masinde Muliro died and Oteng’o says he sold over a thousand copies of the newspaper, the highest in his entire newspaper vending history.
The then 70-year-old top opposition politician died under mysterious circumstances at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) shortly after disembarking from a British Airways plane. Muliro, who had been on a trip to London, reportedly collapsed and died.
“My employer published a late edition following the death of Muliro. That day, I sold a lot of Daily Nation copies at Likoni ferry. I made a lot of money I tell you,” he says.
“I carried the money home in a sack.”
Besides vending, mzee, as many of his clients call him, is an ardent Arsenal and AFC leopards fan.
Oteng’o says with the many challenges facing the newspaper industries today, he cannot allow his Children to venture into his line of business.
“I used to own bicycles and employed a few people to supply newspapers….but today, with this kind of job, one cannot prosper”.