Why newspapers are registered at the GPO

Post Office Nairobi G.P.O sorting room. 1962

If you cared to look at the back of mainstream newspapers, you will come across the line, ‘Registered at the GPO as a newspaper’ at the tail end of contact details.

For a newspaper to be so registered, it must be published within 32 days or less, and a form must be filled accompanied by the newspaper’s registration certificate, a list of at least 30 subscribers and two copies.

But why do newspapers have to be registered at the GPO in 21st century Kenya?
Well, the story goes that back in the day, when your grandfather staggered after taking a defunct drink called City Lager, the fastest way of sending letters, parcels and mizigo was via the General Post Office (GPO).

 During its golden age, the postal service was essential for being the most reliable conveyance system in wide wild Kenya. In fact, it took a fortnight for a love letter written by Mwanasaumu Asha to travel from Nyali via train and reach Athman Shariff Balala in 1900 Nairobi!

The train was introduced by Britons, in whose country newspapers were delivered through the General Post Office, where they had to register to receive delivery services... at a subsidized rate! But first, such preferential first class treatment meant a gazeti had to be registered at the GPO as a newspaper.

Just why The Economist, the upscale cerebral mag without bylines since (‘what is written is more important than who writes it’), and which apologizes for getting a comma wrong, is registered as a newspaper and not a magazine!

This colonial relic is enshrined in The Postal Corporation of Kenya Act (2012) as the GPO is also mandated to exist for “the registration for delivery of newspapers and periodicals,” a ka-law that was ruthlessly employed to hound ‘treasonable’ publications during the single-party rule.