Courier firms are cashing in on gaps left by the one-time monopoly, Malawi Posts Corporation. But the country’s blurry physical addressing system presents a drawback. JAMES CHAVULA writes.
Innocent Mphundi is not your ordinary young man. For four years, the Blantyre-based clearing agent has been working with a wide-reaching workforce of Deutsche Post DHL which hauls loads of vital goods worldwide by air, road, ocean and rail. Even by hand.
On a typical Wednesday afternoon and Saturday noon, he will be speeding to Chileka International Airport to deliver shipments that keep the country’s economy and citizenry going. From his routine, the outbound haul comes in a flash: Samples of tea, tobacco, coffee and other farm produce which earn about 70 percent of the country’s forex; tender documents, contract copies from government agencies and private firms just to ensure the country has vital supplies and services that are not locally available; blood samples and various body specimens the country’s strapped hospitals that often refer abroad for advanced examination and diagnostic services.
On his way back, Mpundi will be carrying truckloads of arrivals, including urgent mail, health care and life-sciences supplies, spares of vehicles and machines that keep the country’s agricultural and manufacturing industries on the move, training materials, diplomatic material, marketing and sensitisation material as well as chequebooks. The common thing about the dispatches he usually handles is that they all have to be delivered at the doorstep by specified deadlines, a challenge which has taught him to do his business knowing time is money.
“In the postal and courier industry, every second counts,” says Mphundi, explaining: “So, paramount is time that spending seven minutes in one place can leave one missing vital deadlines one after another.”
The swiftness that makes courier a breakaway from ordinary ways of sending and receiving goods is clear in that DHL envisages delivering all consignments delivered by 9am. In fact, it is one of the reasons courier firms are flourishing at a time postmaster general Andrew Kumbatira laments Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC) is running on losses because people are no longer writing letters with the advent of emails, Facebook and twitter.
Last year, Kumbatira asked 34 recruits to be creative to revive MPC, challenging them to ask themselves: “Why are people willing to pay K450 for the same services we charge K80?”
However, rapid service, the reasons many prefer courier dealers to the State-run MPC, is being threatened by lack of comprehensive street naming and house numbering system which leaves dispatch workforce guessing and hunting the exact destinations of the goods they carry.
Former Minister of Economic Planning and Development Atupele Muluzi said Malawi is the only country in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) which is behind in street naming and property numbering—meaning postal businesses and emergency service providers are hard pressed to operate efficiently.
This leads to lack of precision when it comes to tracing recipients of the consignments that pour in from all corners of the country and beyond. Usually, this also leaves DHL and its competitors concentrating on doorstep deliveries to locations whose streets are properly named and houses numbered.
The fuzzy physical address system, therefore, disadvantages rural and high density areas.
“Overpopulated locations, such as Bangwe and Ndirande townships in Blantyre, can be tricky because we usually get lost and waste a lot of time tracing our way back,” says Mphundi.
In June last year, government launched a physical addressing and postcodes project which will lessen what Mphundi terms one of the silent delays besetting the industry which has sped up the way goods are delivered in a country where many unknowingly mistake the telephone code (+265) for a postal code. Other delays result from reliance on banking and customs service providers with on-and-off computer networks and workers who do not seem to appreciate the urgency of the goods in transit.
To Mphundi and company, the pending introduction of physical addresses means exactness in the way they do business, cutting back on the time they waste phoning clients and bosses to verify the way.
Affected in 1998, the Communications Act empowers Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (Macra) to license, monitor and promote the development of postal services throughout the country. Its director of postal services Lisa Msusa heads the postal directorate which is championing the establishment of the physical addressing system.
Msusa indicated that the project will be conducted in phases, starting with urban areas and serving rural areas later.
“Apart from holding a consultative meeting to seek the views of various players, we have formed a working committee comprising representatives from the Ministry of Information and Civic Education, Ministry of Lands, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Government and other players,” Msusa told the press.
She reckons the project has been slowed by financial constraints, saying: “It is in the hands of government to identify funding,” for the initiative which may attract more courier companies to benefit Malawians.
Apart from MPC, Macra has licensed 10 courier firms—including DHL, Fedex, SkyNet, TNT, G4S, Ampex, National Bus Service and Times Courier—with Siku Transport as the sole intercity player.