NAIROBI (Xinhua) — That instant messaging technologies like email, social media and mobile phones have shrunk fortunes of postal services in Kenya is a well known fact, but the essential service is still dependable and is not about to die any time soon.

Like in other countries, wide adoption of internet usage and mobile phones has made people shun postal services in Kenya. Quarterly reports from Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) paint a bleak future for the century old institution that was once a hit across the world. In a survey released in January this year, the regulatory indicated the number of letters sent in the country declined by 15.21 percent in the period July to September, 2011.

“The period saw 20.5 million letters posted locally down from 24.2 million during the previous quarter,” said CCK. It was a similar situation in the regulator’s report released last Wednesday for October-December, 2011 period, where the number of letter sent in Kenya further declined. “Letters sent through postal services declined to 19.59 million down from 20.49 million recorded during the previous period, representing a decrease of 4.41 percent.

The stiff competition the sector faces from the telecommunication players has had a negative impact on the growth of this sector,” said the report. The downward trend is incomparable to the use of short-text messages (SMS), where in the period July-September, 2011, Kenyans sent 1.38 billion messages and in the period October – December, 2011, 902 million SMS were sent.

“The growth in Internet usage and short-text message volume during the period could be one of the indications that some of the postal traffic is being consumed by the telecommunication sector,” said CCK. But despite the threat from emerging technologies, Kenya’s postal services have remained resilient, with the oldest communication corporation still raking millions of dollars from the competitive Kenyan market.

The institution in 2011 had a turnover of over 36.1 million US dollars, out of which letters brought in slightly over 24.1 million dollars. The rest of the money came from financial services, which generated 6.02 million dollars and Expedited Mail Service (EMS) bringing in about 3.6 million dollars. “We generate most of our revenue from letters. They are still our cash cow. We are strategising on new ways to sustain the business and embrace technology in a bid to grow market share,” said Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK) General Manager for Courier and Mail Services Stephen Muriuki in a recent interview. Indeed, a survey in various post offices in the capital Nairobi proved that individuals and organisation still post letters in large numbers.

At City Square post office on April 19, there were several people queuing at different counters. The counters are marked “Parcels”, “Water and Electricity bills” and “Stamps”. While the first two had a few people queuing waiting to be served, it is the counter marked “Stamps” that beat them all. At the start of the queue was a nun wearing a white veil who bought some stamps. She moved to a table in the hall where she was joined by another. She extracted a bunch of letters from her handbag and they started affixing the stamps on them.

Following the nun in the queue was a young man of about 28 years carrying over ten magazines. They were the latest issues of an Information Technology publication, which he was to send to subscribers. “There is no any other way, apart from postal service, which the magazines can reach our subscribers. We must send to them physically,” said the man identified as Patrick.

Patrick said the publisher shared the cost of sending the magazine with the subscribers. “I have used 0.54 dollars to send each magazine to subscribers, who are outside Nairobi. This is the second time I am doing it today. To those who are in the capital, especially in the central business district, we deliver the publications physically,” he said. Patrick noted postal services are vital to their business and he does not believe they may die soon due to threats from Internet and mobile phones.

“If the organisation closes shop, we will lose readership in upcountry towns. Postal services are still relevant and most institutions use them especially to send letters to their clients, ” he said. Among organisation in the East African nation that widely use postal services include Kenya Power, for distributing electricity bills, Water Services Companies, media houses, stock brokerage firms, law firms, banks and schools.

For individuals, those who frequently use postal services include job seekers and kin of students sitting for primary and secondary school examinations. “Organisations insist that one must write an application letter while seeking a job, mainly for record purposes. This is what makes the ‘snail mail’ still relevant and dependable,” said George Morara, a fresh university graduate, who is scouting for a teaching job. And as a sign that postal services are here to stay, PCK on Friday unveiled a new range of postage stamps.

The launch was part of celebrations to mark the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The stamps feature three cities synonymous with UNEP. These are Nairobi, Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro. (Xinhua)

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