Surviving the Test of Time: Why Some Gambians Still Embrace Snail Mail and P.O. Box
Maimuna Lowe, a 19-year-old student laughed wildly when asked if she had ever sent or received a handwritten letter to or from anyone in or out of The Gambia through post office.
“Hell no! Why would I do that?” she asked. She was even more confused when she was told that until about 20 years ago, that was the most popular form of communication in the country.
“Whaat! It must have been physically exhausting to sit down, write a letter, put it in an envelope, go to the post office, buy a stamp and post it. I wouldn’t have bothered to write to anybody if that was my generation,” she said, fixing her eyes on her smart phone giggling and responding to Whatsapp group messages.
That form of communication she wouldn’t have been bothered to do is called snail mail. Once upon a time, it was the fanciest mean of correspondence in The Gambia. That was before the advent of the internet and then access to internet. In post offices across the country, crowds would gather on a daily basis to send or receive their letters. Many others would simply use the Post Office Box or P.O. Box to collect their mails. That was luxury then.
But the popularity and relevance of snail mail dwindled around the late 90s with the availability of free email. More and more people dumped snail mail, and email became ubiquitous at the expense of sending physical letters. By 2007, there was a proliferation of the social media, followed by smart phone boom. Instead of sending or receiving handwritten letters, you easily grab your smartphone and use the social media platforms to communicate with anyone anywhere instantly.
The first institution to bear the brunt was the national postal service, now called Gampost.
“I must admit over the years we have lost significant number of customers who used to rely on our domestic and international mailing services. Before, most people use the post office to send and receive their mails but now it’s a different story,” said Moses Jatta, the Acting Director of Operations at Gampost.
He blamed the eclipse of snail mail on the advent of the social media and other forms of electronic communication.
For many people, snail mail may have already died. But for a few others at least, it’s an old glory worth saving. Edrisa Jobe and his family have been using snail mail and P.O. Box for four decades. He inherited the mail box from his father and he’s not ready to let it go.
“Despite the fact that we have the internet, we still use this mail box and most of the time we receive our letters, mails and parcels through this mail box,” he told The Chronicle.
Jobe goes to the post office at least once a week to check his mail box for letters.
Matarr E. Njie, a native of Banjul has been using snail mail for more than sixty years. His main form of communication with his family and friends abroad remains snail mail. He receives his letters through his mail box.
“For me, handwritten letters are still relevant and are dependable. I’d suggest that Gampost hire more postal delivery staff so they can deliver our letters.”
Technology has put increasing pressure on Gampost and its postal services. But on a positive note, it has also pushed the postal service to increase the sophistication of its own technology.
“Now we have an up-to-date record of all mails coming and going out. Technology has also made it possible for us to be able to track mails wherever they are sent to. This ensures safety and minimizes loss of mails, while ensuring trust and confidence in the institution,” said Jatta.
Since Gampost went autonomous in 2005, it has shifted its business model by introducing additional services such as banking, domestic money transfer and courier services in order to stand the test of the time and stay economically viable.