and Acting Managing Director Emanuel Mulooki (R).
Company Profiles: Uganda's Post Office or Posta
Keeping itself relevant after 100 years.
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First published: June 29, 2007
Up until about a decade ago, many Ugandans communicated to the rest of the world mainly through the Post Office or Posta as it was commonly known. If you wanted to send a message to a dear one living in a place you could not travel to, all you had to do was pen down the message, address your letter concisely on the envelope, put the right postage stamp on the envelope and take your letter to Posta for safe delivery. Whether it was sending money, cards or any other valuables, it was the good old Posta that linked you with those you wanted to send messages to. For some people, even traveling long journeys across the country meant jumping on to a Posta bus, which had to be boarded at one-s nearest post office. It has always been one of the most reliable means of traveling within Uganda.
Posta customers enjoy services at Head office.
Then came mobile phone services, whose popularity exploded in the late 90s. Many Ugandans could instantly send messages across the country. Just ask yourself; have you or your friends written a letter in the last two years? There is hardly any need to write anymore. Posta is not the major conduit for lovers, friends, pen pals, or business people to communicate anymore. If you cannot contact the person you want by a phone call or special message service (sms), you can still communicate by electronic mail (e-mail), fax or even send a quick letter through any bus on any route courtesy of improved transport services in the country. Public transport vehicles exist to almost every corner of Uganda and very few people think about the Posta bus today.
With the general bad image that government parastatals in Uganda built in the past, Posta is one of the very few that have survived privatization, but continue to serve and grow as a business.
Posta Uganda is the trade name of Uganda Post Limited (Posta), which was registered in 1998 as a limited liability company to provide postal and related services. This followed the splitting of the Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (UPTC) as part of Uganda-s process of Public Enterprises Reform and Divestiture. UPTC was split into three companies namely: Uganda Post Ltd. (UPL), Uganda Telecommunications Ltd, (UTL) and Post Bank of Uganda Ltd (PBU).
The current headquarters of Posta Uganda in Kampala.
UPL was incorporated with limited liability on the 19th February 1998 to take over as a going concern, the postal activities of the former UPTC. The shareholders of UPL are Uganda-s Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development with 999,999 ordinary shares and the Ministry of Works, Housing and Communications with 1 ordinary share. Posta was to provide competitive services on business conditions as well as universal services under regulation of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), especially to fulfill the objectives of its establishment as outlined in the Uganda Communications Act, 1997 Article 3):
- Enhancing national coverage of communication services
- Reducing the direct role of the Government of Uganda as an operator in the sector
- Encouraging the participation of private investors in the development of the sector
- Minimizing all direct and indirect subsidies paid by the Ugandan government to the communications sector and for communications services
Posta as a market oriented business
Posta carried out research which led it to launch a campaign to re-brand and leave the "old Posta" behind, understand their customers and the needs of the market better, while at the same time providing the traditional and nationally relevant postal and communication services to foster national development. "Posta's strategic commitment is to be market-driven and to make profits so as to survive in the liberalized market environment at the global, regional, national and local levels," the company says in its Strategy Paper published in 2000.
In November 2002, UPL, now under new management, launched its new name and logo in a bid to restore customer confidence and satisfaction in the services it rendered to them. Posta has since broadened the range of choices in postal products and services available to address viable customer needs. From an institution mainly known for selling stamps which would entitle your letter or parcel to be delivered, Posta now offers innovative, individual and corporate postal and related services. These include post box rentals (getting you a post office box where all your mail is delivered), expedited mail services (EMS Courier Services), domestic and international money transfers, internet cafe services, Post Bus service (for passenger & cargo transportation), philatelic services as well as letter and parcel conveyance. It is these services that have enabled Posta to remain relevant to many Ugandans in fulfilling their communication needs.
Genesis of postal services in Uganda
How did postal services begin in Uganda? The history of Uganda-s postal services dates as far back as 1895, when a British administrator, George Wilson, requested the only owner of a typewriter in the country, the Reverend Ernest Millar of the Church Missionary Society to produce stamps for postal services and for payments of postal dues. According to official records, on 14th March 1895, Rev. Millar produced the stamps on his typewriter by changing the ribbon in the typewriter from black to violet. The stamps came into use on 20th March 1895. They were valued in cowrie shells. At about this time, 200 cowries equaled a rupee, (the equivalent of nearly one Uganda shilling today).
As is normally the case with new services, the postal services were initially confined to Buganda (central region) but were later extended to other areas. Postage rates (reflected on the stamp) depended on the distance between the source of the letter and its destination. It cost about ten cowries to post a letter from Kampala to Entebbe, a distance of 30 km and about 60 cowries for a distance of about 300 kilometers. Today, it costs between 300 and 1,200 Uganda shillings depending on the weight of the letter or package.
Few Ugandans can believe that the postal services they enjoy today started in the humblest of circumstances, which some have called bizarre. During those early days, mail was conveyed by runners in relays at fantastic speeds and efficiency. According to records at Posta Uganda, the normal running time from Kampala to Fort Portal, a distance of 317 km was 60 hours or two and half days. Many postal runners died on these errands, the main hazards being wild animals, drowning in rivers, swamps and floods. That was the price of communication then.
Records show that the first conventional postal stamps to be issued in Uganda came in 1896, when un-perforated and un-gummed stamps valued in rupees were produced on a small hand printing set in England. Because of its importance, the postal service grew by the day in colonial Uganda. In 1901, Uganda became a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) which was established in 1874 to enable the exchange of correspondence and speed up mailing procedures between all UPU members. UPU is now an agency of the United Nations responsible for all aspects of mail and its conveyance.
With international recognition, and the Uganda railway (which linked Uganda to Mombasa), British administrators in Kenya and Uganda found it more expedient to run the postal services of the two colonies together. In 1902, the postal services were amalgamated. But telegraph services (the equivalent of today-s fax) which were being offered under the same body continued to run independently per country.
According to the official records, it was in 1903 that new stamps of the King Edward series came into use in Uganda. The value of the stamps in rupees continued until 1922, when the shilling and cent value stamps were issued. Air postal services began with the introduction of the Cape to Cairo air services of the Imperial Airways in 1931. Postal services steadily grew in Uganda.
It was little wonder therefore, that when the East Africa Community was formed, the East African Posts and Telecommunications Corporation operated with its headquarters in Uganda. By the collapse of the community in 1977, Uganda had over 300 offices that offered the much needed postal services.
The caretaker corporation (1977-83) took on the role of providing postal services to the people of Uganda until 1983 when the Parliament of Uganda passed a Bill that established Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Corporation.
There followed a deterioration in postal services as most (especially upcountry) post offices functioned poorly. In 1986, Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (UPTC) began rehabilitating and restoring postal services to many parts of the country. Several sub-post offices were re-opened and others upgraded. By June 1995, there were 9 Regional head post offices, 70 departmental post offices and 235 sub-post offices operating throughout Uganda. According to Posta Uganda, a mail bus service started in November 1994 with only five buses. As UPTC was being divested in 1998, expedited mail services were introduced and grew in leaps and bounds.
New Posta as a viable business
Lucy Abulo, an employee of Posta Uganda. This was one of the strategies aimed at making the postal section of the UPTC economically viable. A strategic plan was made in 2000 to move postal services away from the traditional role of offering social services and instead make profits and break even in all its operations. There was restructuring of both human and material resources to offer more efficient postal services. A marketing and sales section was established and it embarked on aggressive marketing and selling of the now improved and diversified postal services/products.
According to Lucy Abulo who works with Posta Uganda-s marketing department, Posta Uganda also computerized some key areas of postal operations like the public counters, stamp supply center, and established a management information system at the postal headquarters. This was followed by the installation of more private letter boxes at Kampala GPO and issuing of more stamp vendors- licenses and providing letter-posting boxes along with them.
As per Posta Uganda-s business plan, they also procured more -Post buses- so as to increase their frequency on the existing routes. The collection and delivery of mail for large institutions was also stepped up in such a way that mail delivery within the same area of posting takes a day, and two days to other parts of the country. Posta also diversified its services and products to include Post shops (like the ones at the Kampala GPO), packaging, cash-on-delivery (COD), business reply service, photocopying services at all its offices and many other services.
Posta is customer centered
Agatha Mbabazi, Posta's Customer Service Manager says that they now have a fully fledged customer service centre to handle all inquiries, complaints and queries. She says that in a bid to modernize Posta's service, an information and communications technology (ICT) system has been installed at their head office to track and trace mail items to establish whether they have been received in Uganda or not.
Agatha Mbabazi (centre), Posta's successful customer care guru is all smiles.
Posta held a Customer Week from Monday May 28th to Friday June 1st 2007. "We learn from customers- feedback. This is the most efficient communication channel that helps management make important decisions when planning company strategies and to develop products that meet customers- expectations and needs," Mbabazi says.
Citing surveys by an independent firm, K2 Consult, Posta's Acting Managing Director Emanuel Mulooki says that customer confidence in Posta Uganda has been growing over the years as a result of their customer oriented strategies. "Posta has kept abreast of technological advances. We also enjoy the advantages of being the biggest and most experienced postal service provider in the country," Mulooki says. He says the company is now modernizing its operations to enable Posta efficiently serve its customers and eventually be able to deliver mail and parcels to the recipients- doorstep, especially for those staying in planned residences.
General Manager in charge of marketing, Wilfred Musiguzi. Wilfred Musinguzi, the General Manager in charge of marketing and sales says that Posta is also making arrangements for e-post that will enable the company to operate electronic products like hybrid mail. He says this product will enable service providers like utility companies channel their information through Posta Uganda. Posta will later print such information and deliver it to the intended destinations.
Posta's strong position in the market
According to www.ugapost.co.ug , Posta Uganda is the most extensive provider of postal services in Uganda, with an extensive network of postal delivery outlets down to sub-country level. Mail is delivered to over 70,000 post boxes all over the country. Through their 300 post offices, Posta Uganda offer a host of auxiliary services including letter and parcel conveyance, an express courier service, local and international money transfers, internet services, philately for collectors, affordable public transport by Post Bus, distribution of newspapers, magazines as well as acting as an agent for telecommunications providers (selling airtime vouchers, etc), which has kept them at the centre of many Ugandans- lives and businesses.
Apart from offering important postal and related services, Posta Uganda has contributed greatly to promoting tourism and Ugandan cultures through the stamps that are pasted on mail (envelopes) sent across the country and the world. "From Posta stamps, one can get images of fauna, flora, different cultures and other unique features of our country," Musinguzi says. Some stamps depict animals, birds, forests and natural resources found in Uganda while others depict cultural dances, items and totems of the different tribes of Uganda. Musinguzi says that despite developments in information technology, Posta Uganda has remained and will continue to be relevant to the lives of individuals and organizations.
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First published: June 29, 2007
Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.