In 2005, he packed his bags and set off in search of greener pastures in Sudan. Little did he know the greener pastures would turn into arid land, and he would later run back to Kenya to save his own life.
We talk to Otieno Ogeda, founder and Managing Editor of The Corporate Newspaper South Sudan, once a popular weekly print and online newspaper that focused on all matters business.
‘I used to teach English at a commercial college in Nairobi, and one day a couple of my students, who were South Sudanese, invited me to their country. The mission was to go teach the nationals English, as the country prepared for the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,’says Ogeda.
To him at that time, this was a big deal. He would be practicing his teaching at a whole new level, now focusing on introducing the Queen’s language to a people who had very little prior exposure. In addition, it would be in a new country, guaranteeing a whole new experience, and hopefully, with better wages.
‘I would later find myself working for a community based organization called Cush Relief International(CCRI) founded by a South Sudanese with major finding by the USAID.’
The organization’s empowerment mission started out in villages located in the then former Jonglei State which bordered Ethiopia in Eastern side of Southern Sudan, now independently South Sudan. Ogeda and his team implemented education, health and sanitation programs in the region.
‘I spent a lot of time learning the people’s way of life, beliefs, systems. I am a trained journalist and with the experience I had gained in South Sudan’s market and dynamics, I ventured out to start my first business in media, The Advertiser, a newspaper solely for advertisements.’
The Advertiser however did not last long, due to misunderstanding between Ogeda and his business partner.
‘I felt I was being shortchanged in the deal, details of which I might not indulge in. So I left the paper to my business partner and moved on to found The Corporate Newspaper. This was in 2013.’
At the start of the publication, Ogeda solely handled the news gathering, editing, marketing and distribution.
‘I could have employed a few people to help me out, but at that time I couldn’t afford paying salaries, or at least compensation for their efforts. I was just starting out and I needed to get the paper on it’s feet first.’
The Cooperate Newspaper mainly featured business stories, in a country rife with political tension. Ogeda explains that for a country that had just come out of civil war, politics was risky waters to waddle in.
‘Also because of the war, we lacked basic infrastructure. Printing machines were not available and we had to cross the border to print our newspapers in neighboring countries.’
Once sourcing of stories, writing, editing and printing had been done, getting the papers in circulation proved a challenge. He did the printing overnight in Nairobi, and then shipped the papers back to South Sudan by plane to ensure timely distribution within the country.
‘The Corporate Newspaper was a free copy paper, depending entirely on advertisers for revenue, which made efficiently performing such tasks quite an uphill climb.’
Then war broke out. Again.
‘People were closing shop, businesses scaling down, people running to peaceful neighboring countries. It was chaos.’
And then another big hit.
‘The government devalued South Sudanese Pounds by about 100 percent. That meant the cash at hand at that particular time lost value by about the same percentage. For instance, if you had the equivalent of one million shillings, after the devaluation, the cash automatically came down to about Ksh. 100,000. This totally made no business sense.’
That was the final stroke. Otieno says he was sure there was nothing left for him to do in South Sudan. There was no saving the paper, or it’s sister publication, The Investor, a monthly paper he had rolled out just after Cooperate Newspaper.
‘I packed my bags, and although I experienced challenges in getting back to Kenya, I was glad to set foot in my country.’
Ogeda is currently a PR Account Manager at a local Public Relations firm.
‘Life is funny, and quite unpredictable. I was the employer, now I am an employee. Haha. I take it in good stride, though. Life is a learning journey. Squeeze out the lesson in every experience’
Away from the hustles of life, Otieno Ogeda is a physical trainer, using his skills and experience as a fitness enthusiast in helping clients maintain healthy bodies, by keeping fit.
‘I have seen those who adopt a healthier lifestyle achieving their dream bodies through my input, that makes me feel quite accomplished. Fitness requires commitment, that’s all. Commit yourself, every hour, every day, and you will get there’.
So what happened to The Cooperate Newspaper?
‘The Corporate is now digital, accessed on www.thecorporate-weekly.com ,with focus now on the larger East Africa, not just South Sudan. The world has moved digital, a sober business can only ride on the wave.
For Otieno Ogeda, the dream does not die.
‘Till my days are over. Otherwise, let’s do it!’