Friday, November 22, 2013

Fire at Sierra Leone Post Office.

Post Office on Fire
The central part of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone was a hubbub of activity today as a column of smoke that soon grew wider was seen billowing out of the Sierra Leone Post Office (SALPOST) in the morning hours. For the better part of 45 minutes, amazed onlookers gazed in bewilderment as columns of smoke engulfed the building with no response from the city's Fire Force, only for them to come later to the scene with all the urgency of a snail.

Reports from Freetown indicate that the fire originated from the office the General Manager Samuel Koroma who at the opportune time was having a meeting at the National Revenue Authority (NRA) and later stated that he had no idea what might have initiated the blaze. He had left his laptop on in the office, according to a reporter from Politico Sierra Leone and had himself only known about the blaze through a telephone call.

There was extensive damage to the contents of the office, with suspicions that the fire could have been the result of faulty air conditioning in the GM's office.
Still Smoking

With the high level of corruption in the country's capital and given that the country has a history of fires mysterious whenever there are serious investigatory probes, the Sierra Leone conspiracy theorists today had a field day on social media, especially with the coincidental timing of the GM's meeting at the NRA and a fire outbreak in his office that destroyed all documents in his office, including his laptop. 
Smoke Spreads

Luckily the damage to the SALPOST building did not involve any human tragedy as the workers and those there at the time seemed to get out of the building in one piece.

Immediately post independence, the Sierra Leone Post Office, which later in its history was called SALPOST, was one of the most efficient institutions in the country with branches all over the country and tonnes of mail and parcels sent domestically and internationally. However the immense corruption of the late 70s and early 80s did not spare the post office, marking a precipitous decline in the provision and efficiency of postal services. By the early 80s staff at the postal offices in the country started to tamper with packages and letters, especially from overseas and the institution gradually lost faith with the people.

Before the war, many people used the post office to send small sums of money to their relatives.However, criminal elements at the post office started to reportedly scan mails to see if there were any monies and the letters never reached their intended recipients. At the height of the war and before the proliferation of money transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram, the post office was the main way to send money and people living out of the country started to be very creative in sending money, sometimes using carbon paper to wrap money before putting it in envelopes. It was however a losing battle as corrupt delivery men just grew more creative and bolder.
Fire Force Finally Here!

Some years ago, there was a report that American Diversity lottery Applications posted by people anxious to escape the grinding poverty in Sierra Leone were dumped secretly in the ocean. The news whether true or false was met with outrage and protests by young people who had applied for the lottery and that was another low point in the history of this once reputable agency.

With the proliferation of Internet based sources of communication, the emergence of courier services such as DHL and UPS and the widespread use of mobile services, the once formidable hold the country's post office seemed to hold over communication seem to have been lost for ever.

Unlike other African Postal services that envisioned the impact that emerging technology will have on their business model and were proactive in championing Internet and in some cases mobile technology, the Sierra Leone Post Office, buried deep in corruption and institutional inefficiency, was not nimble enough and has largely become a white elephant that no longer has any degree of impact in the country.
Sierra Leone Post Office in 1910

This fire as bad as it is, could provide the much needed impetus to reexamine this colonial relic that is headed by yet another Koroma and question what next for this once formidable national institution. But with all the documents in the GM's office on fire, I guess it is just another case of what Sierra Leoneans call "Kombra fart pan in pikin nar buff case"


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