Kwanza Jamii Njombe has hit the streets of Njombe. As I write, it is on its way (on the buses) out to the rural villages, and is being read all over the town and district. This is a proud moment for Daraja, the culmination of almost three years of gradual preparatory work, and two months of intense activity since the paper's production team started work in July. The full paper is available as a low resolution pdf here (4.24MB).
The launch event on Monday was a success, with the District Commissioner, Mrs Sara Dumba formally cutting the ribbon on the paper (see right), together with a word from the President of the Union of Tanzanian Press Clubs, Kenny Simbaya, and key members of the paper's editorial team. But the highlight was a performance from Mrisho "Mjomba" Mpoto (see below right), whose song "Nikipata Nauli" inspired the name of this blog. More pictures of the launch can be found on our facebook page.
Our editorial team (Robert, Likati, Casiana, Margaret and Maggid), those working on the business side (Irene and Regina), and the many others who have been involved in one way or another are exhausted, but they are rightly proud of a job well done. This is a team with limited experience but huge talent, which I am confident you will agree is already evident from the quality of the work they've done.
We must not forget that this is just a first step, many questions and challenges remain. The quality of content is a bit inconsistent, and we're still learning how best to prepare graphics and photographs for the printing press. We don't yet have any sales figures back in so we don't know whether people will be willing to pay 300/- for the paper. Maintaining interest and quality over time will be harder than making a big splash with an exciting launch. We kept the first issue relatively free of challenging or controversial content - what will happen when we start trying to challenge vested interests?
But we can certainly say that there are some promising signs. Local interest in the paper has been beyond our expectations, with several institutions and individuals asking for multiple subscriptions, including 200 copies each month for the town council. We more than doubled our advertising target, with enough revenue coming in (almost all from very local businesses) to suggest that it might well become possible in future to run the paper as a profit-making business. And I shared copies of the paper yesterday with a select group of government, donor, civil society representatives at a conference on public accountability in Dar es Salaam, where it generated much interest and discussion (almost all very positive).
But perhaps most importantly for an innovative programme like this, we (and others) can now begin to see the future of the paper more clearly. The clouds are clearing, and although its still mostly grey, some patches of blue sky are clearly visible.
Daraja is a recently-formed organisation, working in rural Tanzania, aiming to make local government more responsive to the communities they serve. We believe in bringing government closer to the people, and are committed to making democratic local government work for the poor.