Closing rural post offices is major strategic mistake

Thursday May 23 2019

 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

In 2019, I prepared to file annual returns for a company registered at my Kalangala residence. Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) reported an “address-fail”. Kalangala post office was no longer in use, the end of an era where the tiny building squeezed between derelict district buildings of an earlier era was shut for good.

Uganda Post Limited offered to relocate me to a Central Business District post office box without any further information as to what happened to my mail in transit. This would come with the princely sum of Shs155,0000 to cover the disengagement and fresh engagement.
Little note was made of all the stationary, Internet presence that defined the solitude of my post office address. I effortlessly added “New Town” to my address to mark that the new Kalangala was actually on the move. Younger people hate the word, post office box, so 42 Kalangala was quite good.

In fact, my Kenyan correspondents simply typed out 42. All sorts of mail would arrive by mail even though sometimes several months late, notices of annual general meetings, dividend checks. My most devoted correspondent Andronico Semakula, a 93-year-old legend, retired Grade II teacher from Bikira, who first introduced me to the Kalangala post office simply bypassed the post office for my US style post office mailbox on my front porch.

In Andronico’s heyday, he would call him via the general post office using a microwave link by walking a few metres from his house to this tiny edifice. A call would come to my father’s house, stating I had a call on the general line; wait a few minutes for your caller. The telephone operator eventually restored landline service to Andronico just like it was in the Idi Amin era. Andronico’s standards were too high to allow him to continue walking over to the post office yet Idi Amin had installed telephones in the 1970s.

Through his landline (very reliable) and his post office box, this retiree began the journey that put Kalangala on the tourist map it is today. I remember a short curt conversation I had with the former post office operator (formerly a telephone man) hard of hearing, etc.

I wonder whether Ms Jacqueline Mbabazi, the wife of the former prime minister, has any information on whether it was Morse code or something else that left many former UPTC operators with very bad hearing. The gentleman told me his services had been terminated by Uganda Posta in 2013! That there was a replacement in charge of delivering mail. Every morning he wakes up, as if he is going to work and sits outside his former and now defunct place of employment.

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Many Ugandans travelling upcountry use Posta Uganda’s red buses. In their heyday, they were the answer to a need for scheduled services between Uganda’s major upcountry towns. The buses were an assurance that a certain segment of Uganda’s notoriously poor time keepers were on time. One of the brains behind this service Mzee Paschal Rwakahanda, a former general manager at UPTC that left Posta with some income must have figured its necessity with the long ride from Kabale to Kampala that is more efficiently covered in public transport.

It was another blow when one of my childhood friends recently travelled to Gulu using the same bus. His story was heart-breaking. The bus stopped all along the way, it seems all the stops had miraculously entered the manifest. The engineer was expecting a smooth ride from Gulu to Kampala, but was saddled with a six-hour journey. This is one of the new “petrol” roads where cars routinely attain 150 km as they chase down the Kafo river bed.

It is terrible that Posta has cut-off this priceless rural post office network without a public consultation. Its national infrastructure could be realigned with e-government and e-services.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and
an Advocate. kssemoge@gmail.com