Development Discourse with Amos Safo: Paying for a ‘useless’ postal box

Over the last five years I have been contemplating why I should continue paying for my postal box, which is increasingly becoming irrelevant - because over the period I have not received any letter or item through the postal box.

Over the last five years I have been contemplating why I should continue paying for my postal box, which is increasingly becoming irrelevant – because over the period I have not received any letter or item through the postal box.

Despite the declining business model of postal services, the management of Ghana Postal Company Limited keeps increasing the rental fee each year as if the old postal service is still as indispensable as it was in the past. Through this article I am igniting debate on how the current technological advances in communications should compel Ghana Post to make itself more relevant and viable for the benefit of Ghanaians. That’s the only way the state institution can justify annually increasing fees for its boxes.

Gone are the days when every communication in text format had to pass through the postal system. Those days only a few privileged people had access to postal boxes; just as access to landlines was for a few. One had to beg the owner of a box for permission to take ‘care of’ a letter to the box. Those days, the letter delivery was agonising because Ghana Post was a state monopoly. Undoubtedly, the postal system was the dominant means of communication through letters and telegram messages.

Digital revolution

Currently, the digital revolution is radically altering the indispensability of the postal system globally, with Ghana Postal Company equally affected by the downward trend. The reality is that many companies and individuals are depending less on the once-powerful and now failing postal business. I wonder what has happened to the postal stamps that captured most of our state monuments for nation-branding purposes. As children, we used to keep a collection of those stamps as a source of knowledge and patriotism.

Today, this is no longer the case due to the emergence of technology that has led to decreasing amounts of mail sent or received. The new communications technologies such as e-mail, social networking (Facebook, twitter, Whatsapp, Messenger, Instagram and TikTok, among others, are replacing the need for physical letters and postal services. Consequently, the new communications technology has led to a closure of some post offices across the country, and created unemployment because of computers and smartphones. As indicated earlier, it no longer makes business-sense for customers to use postal services as in the past.

Arguably, the closure of some post offices across the country is a sign of the decline of an institution whose services were once decentralised. Perhaps Ghana Post started struggling when it was separated from Ghana Telecoms and was made a limited liability company in 1999. Prior to becoming a limited liability company, the General Post Office in Accra used to be a very busy environment as people moved up and down with parcels for posting or retrieving the delivered. The last time I visited the General Post Office, I saw doors of some boxes either ripped off or opened; perhaps, a sign of the declining business model of the once significant postal system. Families and businesses used to hold onto their postal boxes as a heritage. No more.

Just as many young people are not familiar with using newspapers as their primary source of information, the current generation have also not seen the value of a postal box. I wonder how many young people have ever gone to a post office to post or receive a letter.  In fact, together with the newspaper business model, the postal system is one sector that has been hardest hit by the advent of Internet and social media.

Currently, volumes of information, documents, images etc. are transmitted across social media and Internet platforms each day with the click of a button. In fact, like newspapers, the most significant challenge to postal services is the Internet and new communications technology. This radical development is no doubt affecting the traditional postal service, a development that calls for innovation by management of the state institution.

The Postal Sector’s Decline

The European Post Union has acknowledged that the global postal industry is fast declining. Evidence suggests that letter volumes reached their highest point around 2005 and have been declining since then. From Africa to Asia and other parts of the world, postmen are having fewer letters to deliver – a trend that is translating to lower profits and loss of livelihoods among the staff.  What’s more, businesses and governments are moving communications and other transactions to the digital world.

The continuous decline in the postal market, especially in developing countries, represents a fundamental change in the postal sector. As indicated earlier, the operational difficulties confronting postal services can be largely attributed to the adoption and penetration of broadband Internet, email and text messaging- all of which offer efficient and alternative ways for people to communicate, transact business and advertise goods and services. Over time, the Internet has evolved from mass broadcast media to personalised conversations, spurred by the growth of social networking sites.

Slow response

Like newspapers, some postal services – including the Ghana Postal Company – have been slow to respond to the need to reform their old business model. Gradually, postal administrations have begun to realise that they have to fight for the postal business – not only with competitors for physical mail/parcels, but also with the providers of new electronic communication products which have no national borders.

Ankrah (2015) for instance argues that the role of postal services in Ghana is diminishing, and that Ghanaians should still have faith in Ghana Post. On the contrary, as much as many Ghanaians would like to see a stronger Ghana Post, the institution must fight for its relevance by redefining its role in the era of digitalisation.  Elsewhere, Postal Services have diversified into providing various services, including offering universal basic financial services. No too long ago, money could be remitted and received from the post offices across the country – but it appears the mobile money business has outcompeted Ghana Post, further deepening the state institution’s woes.

Expedited services

Some years back, Ghana Post launched its innovative Expedited Mail Service (EMS) which dominated parcel delivery services locally and internationally. In fact, the EMS was one service that could have saved Ghana Post from its current downward trend if it had been managed properly. Unfortunately, EMS suffered the same fate that is characteristic of the service delivery of many state institutions. Its so-called expedited service became a headache for clients, as timeliness was no longer its hallmark or core value.

In 2015 I sent a parcel through EMS to a university in the UK for registration to a course, with a tight deadline. Two weeks after paying for the service, the parcel had not arrived at its destination. I became agitated and went to the Ghana Post office at Kwame Nkrumah Circle to follow up. I was referred to the General Post office, where staff failed to track the parcel. A female staff told me to pray and hope that the parcel would be found. Four weeks later the parcel arrived, thanks be to God for answering my prayer. The school reserved my registration only because I had scanned the cheque payable and sent it via email to them. Had it been the EMS alone, I would have missed the registration. Another time, I received a parcel from the UK that could not fit into my small box. The staff dumped the parcel on top of a cupboard without leaving a slip in my box to notify me. It took my insistence and a thorough search at the Post Office before the parcel was found gathering dust on the cupboard. The man on duty that morning showed no remorse for my frustration.

Private delivery services  

While Ghana Post is ceding a huge market in parcel delivery, private sector players are making huge gains in the same sector. Over the last few years, several local and international parcel delivery companies have sprung up across the country due to the boom in digital marketing. These companies are harnessing resources where Ghana Post has failed to take advantage, despite its huge infrastructure and state support.

It appears that Ghana Post continues to depend on postal box-renting as a major source of revenue; and if that is the case, over time it will collapse as ever-more people are abandoning their boxes and relying on private parcel delivery. I am wondering why Ghana Post continues to increase the cost of boxes, irrespective of the fact that business model of postal services is fast declining. I wonder why I should continue to pay rent for a box when I have not received any letter or service through the box for five years.

Digital address

Recent attempts by government to revitalise Ghana Post through the Digital address system are commendable. However, it appears the digital address system alone may not translate into revenue for Ghana Post unless it invests in parcel delivery services to homes and offices. This calls for innovative ideas from the management of Ghana Post, the Postal Commission and Ministry of Communications and Digitalisation to save Ghana Post. Perhaps it is time to invite private investors to help resuscitate the struggling state institution. In fact, Ghana Post needs to learn several lessons from Royal Mail and Deutsche Post DHL Group.

Despite the digital revolution, these state and private institutions are refining their business models and redefining their relevance. In 2021 Royal Mail added a unique barcode to all its ‘Definitive stamps’. This move was part of the company’s extensive and ongoing modernisation drive to facilitate operational efficiencies, enable the introduction of added security features and pave the way for innovative services for customers.

Beginning March 2022, recipients of mail from Royal Mail featuring a barcoded stamp can watch an exclusive video by scanning those stamps in the Royal Mail App.  This is an innovative way of remaining relevant, preserving a tradition and appealing to customers.  Nick Landon, Royal Mail Chief Commercial Officer said: “Introducing unique barcodes on our postage stamps allows us to connect the physical letter with the digital world, and opens up the possibilities for a range of new innovative services in future”.

Similarly, the Deutsche Post DHL Group – through innovation – is maintaining its position as the world’s leading courier service. As a result, Deutsche Post DHL’s ‘Post-eCommerce’ Parcel division and ‘Corporate Incubation’ services are some of the world’s leading products.

In view of the digital revolution, Ghana Post needs to embark on institutional reforms and innovations with the aim of reevaluating its norms, values and service delivery. A viable and more relevant Ghana Post cannot continue depending on revenue from postal boxes. Ghanaians deserve innovative services from Ghana Post.


Ankrah, E. 2015. The impact of technology on postal services in Ghana. International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research Volume 14.


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