Once you become a consummate follower of news, you develop an eye for the occasional odd story that makes its way to the papers or to the news bulletin on TV. It was under such circumstances that I noticed a headline, “Internet not affecting our business – Post Office.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. I actually laughed when I read this headline. According to the Commercial Director of the National Post Office of Rwanda, Dieudonne Maniragaba, the internet has not affected them. On the contrary, he argues that it has instead complemented the postal business.
I have heard this argument before and it is simply lame. It is like saying extensive agriculture does not affect the subsistence farmer. Or that one who hunts with a spear is not bothered by the discovery on gunpowder.
Of course, as part of his job, Mr. Maniragaba has to paint a rosy picture. And I understand that bit. The truth, though, is that the post office is a communication bureau. In the past it enjoyed pure monopoly since telephone, fax and telegram facilities were all accessed from there.
The advent of the internet means that my Nokia phone and computer together with a modem are now communication bureaux. In other words, I walk around with a mini post office. Email has been the biggest killer of the post office business. I have just sent two emails to friend in the US and it cost me less than Rwf50.
In order to survive, the post office has to reinvent and provide new services besides the traditional mail. The recent transfers of the main post office from the city centre to Kacyiru and then to Muhima have left the impression of a dying institution being hounded out of the city to give way for ‘more important’ establishments.
Impression is a key factor for businesses and therefore the post office has to do a lot to convince people that it is not worth bidding farewell. The post office has a huge potential market and can build on this to prove it is still relevant.
The money transfer service has already gone mobile and I do not expect the post office to compete with MTN or Tigo. For courier services, the several buses that ply upcountry routes as well as those that go to Uganda, Kenya and beyond have also taken a foothold of the courier business.
It is useless therefore for the Post office official to claim all is well when it definitely is not. Denial does not help. And the power of the internet cannot be underestimated ever. Although he talked of delivery of mail to homes as apart of the Kigali master plan, he seems to ignore the fact that the same people who should be sending these letters will actually be exchanging emails at a much less cost.
I have seen in Uganda, the post office is struggling to survive on its fringe businesses like the Post bank and the Post buses which are sued to transport mail and people at a fee. The bottom line is the guys at Muhima need to sit and think of what to do instead of pretending that all is good. Sometimes it is not enough to move with the times, they need to think outside the box. I wish them luck though.