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Businesses scramble for Luganda market

By Joan Akello

Is it the language or the product that matters in this high sales, low price segment?

Six years ago, in 2007, Uganda’s leading vernacular newspaper, the Luganda language Bukedde, was selling an average of 14,000 copies daily. Its English language sister paper, The New Vision, was selling an average of 32,500 copies daily. Today, the New vision is selling an average of 34,500 copies daily; a 6% rise in five years. Bukedde meanwhile is selling 32,000 copies daily; which is a whopping 129% rise.

Bukedde’s success has spawned an interest in the Luganda language-based market segment. The Vision Group which publishes Bukedde has since launched Bukedde FM, Bukedde TV and is testing another Luganda-language TV channel.

Vision Group’s main competitor in the daily news market, Monitor Publications Ltd (MPL) has also acquired the Luganda-language radio 90.4 Dembe FM from Patrick Bitature’s Simba Group of Companies as part of a grand strategy   to enter the Luganda-language-based market segment. Around, the same time it bought Dembe in August 2012; MPL also started a Luganda-language sports newspaper, Enyanda, which is thriving.

Not to be left out, most businesses today have a Luganda-language twist in most of their marketing strategies. Even the English language advertisements of most telecom companies have a Luganda flavor and pitch with catch-lines like Berako,  Wetaase, Nalongo, and others . Even some government departments have followed the emerging trend; the strapline for the newly rebranded Kampala Capital City Authority is `City Yange’, meaning “my city”.

Robert Kabushenga, the Vision Group chief executive officer who is credited with discovering it told The Independent in an interview that the Luganda –language market segment is geographically driven.

“Luganda thrives as a business language because the central region is the biggest business segment,” he said adding that successful products like the Bukedde brands in his stable tap into it by meeting the demands of the Luganda-language speakers.

Like Bukedde, many businesses target the market in the central region because of its historical political and economic importance. But newspapers and other news media are being analysed because they are targeting the language directly. The question being asked is why Luganda?

Wafula Oguttu, who founded The Monitor Publications Ltd, says it all has to do with the numbers of speakers.

“I think there are about 10 million people who speak Luganda. I am not sure if there are 10 million English speakers in Uganda,” he says.

Dr George Lugalambi, a former head of Mass Communication Department at Makerere University who has  conducted research in this area says the Baganda have a numerical muscle as the most populous ethnic group in Uganda and enjoy benefits from their strategic location as the centre of the country’s political and economic activity.

“The country’s industrial infrastructure and its commercial, media as well as consumer sectors are concentrated in this area,” Lugalambi says, “The markets beyond Kampala and the central region are rural, their economies agro-based, and the people have very low purchasing power.”

The Census of Business Establishments shows that there were 458,106 businesses in 2010/11 in the central region. Although the data segregated Kampala from central region, an aggregate of the two shows that about 60% of all businesses in Uganda are located here.

Lugalambi’s research shows that although the main newspapers; New Vision and Daily Monitor have a ‘national’ target, they draw the bulk of their revenue from sales in Kampala, and its surroundings.

Aaron Mushengyezi,   head of the Journalism and Communication Department of Makerere University says Bukedde is thriving because it has completely dominated the other media in the Luganda-Language segment and faces little competition from other players who are struggling, if not limping.

No money yet

But Wanyama Wangah,  an editor of  the Vision Group’s weekend paper,  Saturday Vision, says although Luganda is emerging as a significant market segment it still lags behind the English-language segment.

“English papers and broadcast stations generate more revenue and sales compared to their Luganda counterparts,” he says, naming a radio station that has both English and Luganda channels.

“Bukedde is the only successful Luganda newspaper, “Wanyama says, “Luganda media have less revenue and sales because the English segment is bigger.  Advertisers want people who have money.”

That is an important distinction. Are businesses making money in the Luganda-language market segment?

“There are basically only three successful Luganda media brands; Bukedde, CBS and Simba who are enjoying lucrative business,” says Kabushenga, “Others are struggling.”

Although the numbers of readers of English-language newspapers are dwindling – The New Vision sold an average of 34,800 copies daily in 2004 compared to 34,500 today, they are raking in more money than Bukedde.

Most business and government departments that advertise job ads, tenders, and notices, which are the main money makers, do business only with the English language media.

As Ben Bella Illakut, the coordinator of the Mass Communication Department of Bishop Barham University College points out, Bukedde’s success is partly a result of lower pricing.

“A copy of the New Vision and Daily Monitor is Shs 1,500 yet Bukedde is Shs 1000,” he notes.

He says Bukedde’s price is perfectly matched with its low income consumers who are mainly the self-employed city dwellers. This is an expanding demographic as opportunities in traditional civil service jobs dwindle and hard economic times drive more people into the consumption habits of low income market segments as Prof. Frederick Jjuuko, a law don at Makerere university notes.

Jjuuko says most consumers for the English media are salary earners who want official information from the government and alternative information from independent sources but who, during hard economic times, may drop one of the newspapers or stop buying newspapers.

Sam Dick Kasolo, the press secretary of the Kabaka of Buganda and a media consultant, says if one is targeting the local class, then he or she must use Luganda, which he says has contributed to Bukedde’s success.

“There is success of the local media which appeals to the audience. The growth of that audience prompted the Vision Group to launch a second channel of Bukedde TV to cater for the unique needs of each of the population segments,” Vision Group chief commercial officer, Tony Glencross   said last November.

Kabushenga agrees that the Luganda-language segment is a typical `B’ market with reasonably high sales but low contribution.

“English speakers have money but the locals are more commercial,” because he explains, “they have less money but spend more which collectively makes more sales.”

He adds that innovation in the Luganda segment is lucrative, and bigger in terms of market.

There is no disputing it when Kabushenga says to succeed in this market depends a lot on understanding the people’s needs and responding to them. How he converts Bukedde’s readership success into a sustainable revenue stream for the Vision Group is less clear-cut.

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