Annual Meetings of the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) Assemblies

Speech by UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein during the opening of the Annual Meetings of the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) Assemblies, Nairobi, Kenya, 11 June 2018

The Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communications and Technology of the Republic of Kenya, Honourable Joseph Mucheru

Chairman of EACO and Director General, Communications Authority of Kenya, Mr. Francis Wangusi

The Executive Secretary of EACO, Dr. Ally Simba

The Director General of the Communications Authority of Kenya and Directors General from other Regulatory Authorities from EACO member countries, here present

The Postmaster General of Postal Corporation of Kenya, Mr. Dan Kagwe

The Chief Executive Officers of ICT regulatory authorities of EACO member countries,

The Chief Executive Officers and representatives Postal, Telecommunications and Broadcast members of EACO

Distinguished delegates

Dear participants

Ladies and Gentlemen 

It is a pleasure for me and my colleagues from the International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union to join you at this meeting today.

I thank the secretariat of EACO for inviting UPU to the meeting and for according me the opportunity to address you.

I am also most grateful to the Kenyan authorities for hosting this meeting and for their excellent hospitality and arrangements that have been put in place for all participants.

First I wish to inform this meeting that EACO was recently admitted as an observer in UPU meetings. I congratulate EACO for the feat and thank the Executive Secretary for the interest to work with UPU. I look forward to welcoming EACO team at UPU meetings in the near future.

EACO’s admission to UPU is in addition to the fact that all the postal administrations of the region, namely, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, are already members of UPU and play key roles in representing the East African region as well as Africa in UPU forums.

During the 2017 - 2020 cycle UPU is running a minimum of eight technical assistance project within the EACO region. Some are national programmes targeted to specific countries while others are of regional nature.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to learn from EACO’s unique model of bringing together, governments, regulators and operators across the ICT industry to discuss issues that affect the sector. This is one of the best models I have seen anywhere. We have also seen the notable success stories of EACO. As a result EACO initiatives, East Africa is among the few regions that have established seamless communication connectivity among the member countries. This has helped integrate region’s the citizens of the six countries who also share similar cultures, and with most of them speaking Swahili language.

Integration of countries in the region is a very positive aspect for social and economic development. The coming together of these countries has the potential of creating one market block consisting of more than 100 million people. This is by any standards a huge market. I wish to congratulate members of EACO for this achievement.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me now to address myself specifically to the postal sub-sector of the industry.

For many decades, the post was the most visible form of communication service in the region. This was largely due to the affordability and accessibility of its services to the public. Citizens have for many years had great trust in the reliability of the post. They trusted the post for transmission of their mail, goods, documents and even money.

The situation has since changed owing to the dynamics in technological advancement and customer needs. In particular, both the mobile telephony and the Internet have had a big impact in the way people communicate not only in this region, but also worldwide. Technology has greatly eroded the post business, especially the traditional main business of the post; the letter.

The post, especially in the developing world, also faces challenges of low level funding, fulfillment of certain regulatory obligation and poor infrastructure. These have continued to negatively affect the postal business. 

On the positive side, technology has brought many opportunities for the post. Through innovation, the post has taken advantage of technology to roll out new services. The new services, coupled with its large physical network and years of experience with customer service, have made it possible for the post to remain competitive in the market.

The biggest impacts of technology in the post have been felt in the fields of electronic commerce and financial services. In the East African region, there is big potential for these services as the region boasts of relatively good Internet connectivity, especially in the main commercial centres. With huge young population and a steadily growing middle class, the region holds promise to success in e-commerce business. This is where the post opportunities lie.

Sadly, in this multi-trillion dollar industry, Africa only accounts for less than 2 percent of global e-commerce. It is for this reason that UPU has put a lot of focus on Africa to assist the posts to develop their e-commerce capacities that will enable them participate in the steadily growing online trade.

Within the framework of the Regional Development Plan for Africa, UPU’s priority areas in the current cycle (2017 to 2020), encompass the following main areas:

(i) Improvement of operational efficiency and e-commerce development

(ii) Postal financial services development

(iii) Postal sector development, and

(iv) E-services and diversification

The focus in e-commerce is based on the fact that growth in online business results in increased volume of parcels that need to be delivered.

The post should, therefore, not just position itself to take advantage of this growing business opportunity but should actually participate in growing it.

I am pleased to note that all the designated postal operators in East Africa are actively participating in the UPU Regional Project on Operational Readiness for E-commerce (ORE) in Africa. This will help enhance their capacity to take up this expanding market that holds the key not only to their survival, but also to their profitability.

Ladies and gentlemen, apart from connectivity, the region also needs to establish a reliable addressing and postcode system that is crucial for efficient delivery. I know there is a lot of work going on relating to addressing and which UPU has been providing technical assistance and expertise, but there is need to do more. E-commerce simply can’t thrive without an efficient addressing platform. I call upon governments in the region to speed up the establishment of a reliable addressing system for the region to spur trade as well as create access to other crucial public services.

We at the UPU believe online trading can rejuvenate the post in Africa and allow it to continue contributing to national development of the respective countries. To this end, UPU has developed a project called Ecom@Africa, whose aim is to position the post as the central key infrastructure for transaction in the virtue market. The project is designed to also incorporate micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and offer them opportunities to access export markets.

Kenya is among the six hubs that have been selected in the continent to pilot this project. Uganda and Tanzania have also expressed interest in participating in this project. The project has so far kicked off well in Tunisia, whose hub should be up and running by end of the year. South Africa is also at an advanced stage to establish their hub and we are in communication with Kenya to commence the initial phase of the work.

I wish to call upon member countries interested in taking part in this project to contact UPU for facilitation.  We are in the process of recruiting a consultant specifically to handle the project and ensure its speedy implementation.

The other area of growth in the post is financial services. The post has been in the business of money transfer for many decades but this is now being enhanced by use of modern technology to make the services more efficient, faster and reliable.

Apart from financial services being an in important business component for the post, the service also makes the postal sector play a critical role in contributing to the attainment of national development goals pertaining to financial inclusion.

It is against this background that the UPU recently launched the Regional Project on Electronic Postal Payment Services in Africa, in which a majority of the EACO members are participating.

Through creation of financial inclusion among the unbanked population in developing world, especially in Africa, the post has played a key role in facilitating financial remittances especially for international migrants at more affordable cost.

In this regard, UPU and the International Organization for Migration have been working in collaboration with Burundi Post to facilitate affordable remittance of money from the country’s migrants living in Europe.

My message to postal organizations within EACO is that they should diversify their services and take advantage of the growing electronic transactions to position themselves as key participants in the supply chain. They should also modernize their network to make them more efficient and reliable.

To conclude my comments, I wish appeal to governments in the region, as the sole shareholders of their respective posts, to facilitate them to diversify into e-commerce especially through the Ecom@Africa project. Diversification is the only sure way for the postal organization to continue performing well in the increasingly competitive market.

Finally, I wish to invite you to the UPU’s Extraordinary Congress, which will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 3rd to 7th September this year. Within the Congress we will have a Ministerial Strategy Conference, where ministers in charge of the post will discuss the future direction of the sector. We have already sent invitations to all ministers.

UPU will also next year organize a forum for postal regulators. We would like to provide a forum for regulators to examine their market determine the best way grow the sector. We are still looking for a suitable host for the event. We will be glad to have the meeting within this region if we get a volunteer host.

Thank you for your attention.