Rise and rise of security industry amid increased threats

Saturday June 20 2015

Security guards and plain clothes police officers in Nairobi after an attempted raid at a forex bureau on August 1, 2014. FILE PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

Security guards and plain clothes police officers in Nairobi after an attempted raid at a forex bureau on August 1, 2014. Licensed foreign exchange traders and banks are increasingly competing with aggressive Internet forex brokers who are not regulated by the Central Bank. FILE PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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Less than four years ago, boarding a matatu was an affair that involved walking to a bus terminus, hopping into the vehicle and moving from one point to the next.

The public service vehicles competed for passengers solely on order, how flashy they looked or on the type of music systems they contained.

Today things have changed greatly. Stickers with words “This vehicle is under 24-hour surveillance” placed visibly in and outside the matatus are the in-thing and could mean the difference in the profit margins of operators.

CCTV surveillance has become a common feature in many matatus in Nairobi, besides the frisking of passengers with metal detectors before boarding.

For close to four years now, the country has been under sustained attack from terrorist groups like the al-Shaabab that have led to loss of hundreds of lives.

Armed robberies and murders are also on the rise, and while there are constant promises from the government to enhance security, insecurity has persisted.

Amid all this, the private security industry has enjoyed unprecedented growth.

From sophisticated gadgets to increased manpower, the security sector has grown dramatically transforming itself into a multibillion shilling industry employing thousands of guards, a situation that could have been a dream only 10 years ago.

It is not clear how many people are employed in the industry due to the absence of regulation, but the number could exceed 300,000, according to Kenya Security Industry Association (KSIA) secretary John Thuo.

“Since the Westgate attack happened, fear and insecurity have become the greatest concern for all Kenyans. Even right now if you ask most people what their greatest concern is, they will say security; so it’s all about supply and demand,” he said.

“The available security firms are still not able to satisfy the number of requests they receive. It won’t be wrong to say that this is the largest employer in the country right now,” Mr Thuo added.

At 300,000, the number of people employed by the private security firms outnumbers that of the police and military combined by up to five times.

According to police spokesman George Kinoti, there are about 35,000 policemen in the country. Military research website Global Firepower places the number of servicemen in the Kenya Defence Forces at 30,000.

There are now more security guards than workers in the tourism industry, which according to government statistics, currently employs 206,000 people hotels have been cutting down their staff due to falling tourist arrivals.


Today, one is likely to find heightened security at almost every public premise, including churches.

The number of personnel and security gadgets varies according to the perceived threat and the financial muscle of the owners.

At bus stops, conductors double as security agents frisking every passenger getting into the vehicle. Once inside, passengers also find themselves being constantly monitored by CCTV cameras that have become a norm.

According to Spytrack & Surveillance Managing Director Anderson Kathendu, it costs Sh65,000 to install a CCTV system in a 29-seater bus and Sh95,000 to have four cameras placed at strategic points.

“When a vehicle is fitted with four cameras, it is possible to record activities within a 20 metre radius,” he says.

He adds, “The cameras transmit real-time videos to the owner’s mobile phone.”

Although the PSV industry appears to be increasingly engaging private security services, it is commercial buildings that are the largest consumers. A survey released recently by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK said residential dwellings consume only 10.7 per cent of private security in Kenya.

“The majority of residents who can afford some form of private security rely on the small, often unregistered companies, which provide guards at the cost of between Sh3,000 and Sh5,000 a month, or they organise various forms of neighbourhood watch schemes, including vigilante groups, to improve their collective security,” said the ‘Globalisation of Private Security’ report.

At Greenspan Mall in Nairobi, for example, a shopper arriving by car is subjected to as many as four checks from the moment they approach the gate to when they enter the mall.

At the gate, a guard runs an under vehicle search mirror (UVSM) before another one opens all the doors and runs a manual search. Once inside, a shopper goes through a walk-through metal detector after first emptying their pockets before going through a physical check by a hand=held metal detector.

The cost of installing the apparatus that a shopper goes through at the mall in Donholm estate even before going in is staggering, according to enquiries from sellers by the Sunday Nation.

A walk-through metal detector costs on average Sh270,000, a hand-held metal detector Sh8,000 and a UVSM Sh20,000.


Lavington Security, which has a contract to guard the premises, refused to disclose the number of security guards deployed to man it for security reasons, but strategy manager Kennedy Kipkorir says it exceeds 40 on a daily basis.

“On top of this we have a number of undercover operatives at the premises that the uniformed guards don’t even know if they exist whose job is to gather intelligence,” he said.

“This enabled us to arrest a number of foreigners with ill motives at the mall in March,” he said.

At Sh25,000 per month, which the security company receives per guard from the mall, Lavington Security could be making an excess of Sh1 million on a monthly basis from the mall alone.

With its 12,800 guards, a calculation by the Sunday Nation shows it could be making an excess of Sh320 million monthly from its guards alone. Three years, ago the company had only 6,000 guards, according to Mr Kipkorir.

Apart from the provision of guards, Mr Korir says, the demands of clients have shifted to include equipment and guard dogs.

“The proliferation of foreign-owned companies that import sophisticated equipment and technology from their mother countries has upped the competition and placed most private security companies at par with international companies,” he said.

It costs on average Sh15,000 to install an alarm system, Sh150,000 to install an electric fence on a 50 by 100 feet plot, Sh70,000 for a razor wire on the same plot and an upwards of Sh1 million for an integrated security system that includes CCTVs.

Commercial properties have gone a notch higher, and a number of them have installed baggage scanners and optical security barriers which were just a few years ago the preserve of airports and high-level security installations. A baggage scanner can cost up to Sh4 million while an optical barrier costs on average Sh270,000.

Although still a new concept, smoke screen generators are being installed in commercial properties.

“In the event of a break-in or terror attack, smoke screen generators fill the room with safe, harmless smoke that debilitates and disorients the intruders and keeps your valuables secure. We have installed a number of these in some commercial premises and the demand is high,” says Mr Korir.

It is not clear how many security companies exist in the country because there is no regulation, but Mr Korir places them at not less than 2,500. Of these, only 30 are members of KSIA, which is self-regulating.

A Bill published in 2013 that was to regulate the industry is yet to be passed. The Private Security Industry Regulation Bill was to introduce laws on licensing, registration, operation, conduct and equipment to be used by private security companies.

Security experts say this lack of regulation could pose a threat to the people supposed to be protected by the security companies.

“There is no standard training procedure or syllabus and each company trains its guards the best way it knows. As investors fight to maximise profits, the industry has overtime been structured to attract the least qualified people who do not have skills for any other formal job,” says James Ndun’gu, the project manager at Safer World.