From P.O Box to WhatsApp : The death of the Post Office in Uganda

Death of the PO BOX

[blockquote right=”pull-left”][/blockquote] Remember the good old days when the only way to communicate was through letter writing and posting it to a friend?  For some of us who had a good taste of boarding school can vividly recall writing letters that went somewhat like this “Dear Mummy, Can you please come with a lot of grab (things to eat)for me on visiting day. Your lovely son, Bambino “. (Okay not exactly those words but am sure you get the gist of it) If you were lucky, the letter would reach in time before the stipulated date. And don’t get me started on those love letters that had we had to send to our high school crushes in another schools.

But for years now, some critics have predicted the death of the letter writing for more efficient ways of communication. We have come from the era of sending letter through a PO Box address to sending messages via a mere email, SMS, WhatsApp or Viber message reducing the duration of communication from months to just seconds, which signals a near death of the Post office business. Or is it?

Posta Uganda will still be in business, some what

I sometimes wonder if Posta Uganda Ltd is still in business — but come to think again — it has to be, since most legit companies in Uganda are supposed to have an official post office address as a prerequisite for company registration. But how many of these companies use the post office more often than it was in the 90s. Before the advent of email, many people maintained a healthy relationship with their correspondence; they found letter writing to be a useful complement to their main literary projects. Letters were not only a way to stay in touch with colleagues or test out ideas and themes on the page, but also a valuable method of easing into and out of a state of mind where they could pursue more daunting and in-depth writing.

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Now that there is a high penetration of mobile internet in Uganda, the need for letter writing has reduced tremendously. With smartphones, tablets and portable PCs on the market, sending a letter to colleague in Arua is as easy as sending them an email. More so, asking mum for pocket-money can be executed via a combination of  WhatsApp messages and mobile money. In fact, the only time I get to use the post office is for receiving parcels, but more than often I opt for private courier companies like FedEX since the post office had earned itself a bad reputation of disappearing with the contents of people’s packages. But all that has changed today.


Is emailing and mobile internet communication really such a different beast?

That’s a no-brainier, in favour of the affirmative. It is this constant background awareness of these new age ways of communication that can cause real problems. Unlike traditional mail, they are always active. You can’t send a WhatsApp and then put it completely out of mind; there is at least some slight awareness of the message’s continuing life, the possibility of a reply, the need to keep refreshing the stream of digital correspondence. And, that’s the best-case scenario — more often, it is the nagging collection of unanswered messages especially group messages that weigh on one’s mind.

One possible tactic is to set aside a portion of each day to go through my digital messages all the way from Group messages and emails and deal with it only at that time — to process them in batches, treating it like a daily delivery from the postman rather than a constant slow drip of communication. One thing is for sure the post office business in Uganda has transformed with time. They not only convey your letters and parcels, but with time they have gone into local and international money transfers, internet services, public bus transportation via Post Bus Services Limited, distribution of magazines and newspapers and acting as agent for telecommunications providers, as they battle to stay relevant to the growing internet age.