How Kenyan Student Created Longest-Running African Newspaper In The United States
Tom Gitaa, an ambitious Mombasa student, left the country in 1990 after being offered a scholarship to further his education in Minnesota, United States.
Gitaa had big dreams of making it abroad and supporting his family back in Mombasa, and he never imagined himself in the media industry. He just wanted to finish his degree and get on the next flight back home.
However, life did not follow that path. He felt compelled to stay in the United States for a little longer. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Gitaa’s extended stay in the United States provided him with a business opportunity.
His decision to enter the news business was influenced by a number of reforms taking place in Africa, including leaders pushing for democracy and the abolition of dictatorships.
There were a lot of reforms going on in Africa in the 1990s.” People were working to overthrow dictatorships, and multiparty democracy was gaining traction.
“Everyone was waiting for news from home, and for Gitaa, a recent graduate, that was an opportunity.
He founded Mshale, a newspaper for and about African immigrants in Minnesota, in response to the demand for news among Africans.
In 1996, he began compiling news from East Africa into a two-page summary he dubbed Mshale, after the Swahili word for arrow, which symbolized the hunt for the truth. He mailed the fledgling publication to a small group of friends and acquaintances.
“I would spend the weekend putting the digest together. Then I would go to a Kinko’s in Roseville on Monday and print two-pages on 11-by-17 paper,” Gitaa explained.
Despite the fact that the business was growing in Minnesota, he kept it as a side hustle for about a decade. His full-time job was at a rental car call center.
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The publication continued to gain traction, forcing Gitaa to hire more people and expand the Mshale newspaper to eight pages from the original two.
Gitaa made the decision to professionalize Mshale operations in 2001. He approached a printing company, which began printing Mshale on standard newsprint.
He switched to a monthly publication schedule and began giving away the paper for free, with drop-off locations in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Brooklyn Park’s African markets.
To generate revenue at the time, the company relied on advertisers shifting away from paid subscriptions.
With increased readership and demand for news, Gitaa shifted Mshale’s editorial focus to what was happening in Minnesota’s African community rather than what was happening abroad.
His understanding of the digital space and reader behavior in terms of news consumption influenced his decision. People could now access African news outlets, and internet connections were becoming more common.
“News outlets in Africa were suddenly accessible to people in Minnesota, which made Mshale’s summaries of news from the continent “a little bit redundant,” Gitaa explained.
Despite numerous challenges, Gitaa has managed to keep Mshale afloat for over 25 years, making it Minnesota’s longest-running newspaper.