Who Guards the Guards?

By Marion Gachuhi

Who Guards the Guards?

By Marion Gachuhi

February 25, 2021 (Nairobi, Kenya) – They are referred to by numerous names. Some call them ‘soldier’, ‘askari’, ‘Maasai’, ‘watchie’, ‘guard’, ‘watchman’ or ‘security’. They man our residential gates, offices, entertainment joints…the list is endless. While they are busy protecting us day in, day out, who is protecting them?

Usalama Reforms Forum is a Civil Society Organization that fights for private security services. But how? This public safety research and innovations organization is based in Kenya and champions for private security governance, policy research, and police reforms. Formed in 2008 as a result of the Kenyan 2007/08 post-election violence, the Usalama Reforms Forum has grown from community to international levels and has branches in twelve counties across Kenya. It has partnerships with the National Police Service (NPS), National Police Service Commission (NPSC), the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA); the Geneva Centre for Security Governance (DCAF) and Fight for Peace International and Private Security Providers.

According to the Usalama Reforms Forum 2019 ‘Baseline Study on the Private Security Industry in Kenya: Challenges and Implementation of the New Regulatory Framework’,

Kenya has over 500,000 security guards in over 1,000 security firms with an estimated annual turnover of Kshs 300 billion. So how exactly does Usalama Reforms Forum protect the private security sector? Through reforms and recommendations from its research; it presents them to its partners and the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA) for review and implementation. These include human rights compliance, strengthening the capacity of unions to boost accountability, effective communication strategies, and Civil society organizations (CSOs) to be empowered to manage complaints and support victims in case of violations.

Jacob Atiang, the Usalama Reforms Forum Head of Programmes said, “Our thematic strands are: Police professionalism, community policy, oversight mechanism and accountability, policy and legislation, and community safety model.”

The Private Security Regulation Authority (PSRA) Act, 2016 seeks first to provide for a framework of regulation of the private security services industry in accordance with the values and principles set out in the Constitution. Second, to provide for a framework for the regulation of foreign ownership and control of a business operating as a security service provider. Third, to regulate private security services registered in Kenya rendered outside the Republic. Lastly, to provide for a framework for cooperation between the private security services industry and the state agencies that deal with security.

The former Kenya National Private Security Workers Union (KNPSWU) National Administrator, Rauf Okal participated in the groundbreaking transformation of policies governing Kenyans working in the Qatar private security industry. First, the Kafala System is set to be abolished. This is a system that defines the relationship between migrant workers and their employees (Kafeel). It is found among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – as well as Jordan and Lebanon. The Kafala system does not fall under the host country’s labour ministries but rather the internal ministries, leaving the migrant workers vulnerable and at the mercy of their employees. The state gives individuals and companies’ sponsorship permits in which the sponsor is to provide travel costs, accommodation, and meals. The usually underpaid, overworked workers need permission to terminate their work contract, change jobs or even exit the country! Going against these rules could lead to imprisonment or even deportation.

Second, the enforcement of law according to government regulations for instance occupational safety and health, standard working hours, minimum wage and decent accommodation. Third, the introduction of the Wage Protection System (WPS) – Workers’ pay have to be approved by the government and bank before the employees receive them. This is to curb employers from underpaying their employees or not paying them in due time.

Fourth, the increase of salary from QAR 750 (KES 22,546) to QAR 1,000 (KES 30,070). Employers are also to provide food and accommodation to their employees and working overtime is paid for as well. Finally, the amplification of workers’ voices. Private security sector workers now have representatives who lobby per the sector’s interest.

Proper training of private security personnel is vital for the security of the community and private security personnel as well. Therefore, the Usalama Reforms Forum, Private Security Regulation Authority (PSRA), National Industrial Training Authority (NITA), Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) have been working closely in the development of special curriculums for private security firms and personnel. They are geared towards delivering a model of security solution different from the traditional security models. They are focused on the adoption of new technology, development of effective and efficient human capital, and value addition targeting on the improvement of processes and procures

Some of the challenges that face the private security sector in Kenya are, violation of human rights of and by Private Security Companies (PSCs) personnel, lack of adequate training on human rights awareness and lack of awareness by the public on the role played by private security. Also, the poor implementation of the PSRA Act, 2016 in regards to registration and licensing of their companies and staff. This could lead to the hiring of incompetent personnel. In addition, poor access to new technology, and inadequate regulation in regards to it. Also, insufficient training hinders the security personnel’s ability to curb new threats such as terrorism and organized crimes. At times, some personnel may go rogue and participate in criminal activities such as armed robbery. Finally, lack of proper training and capacity building and not respecting workers’ rights.

“I’ve only been working for 4 months and I’ve never received my salary on time. At times, I receive it well into the next month. My working schedule is tough seeing that I work from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I have no off days thus having no social life or time for myself. As for our company, we have no registration or identification cards but I received basic training,” said Patrick Bumwe, a security personnel working for the Maximum Security Services Limited.

Caleb Wanga, the Usalama Reforms Forum National Co-ordinator said, “Private security personnel is very significant in the fight against terrorism. Therefore, they need to be trained and fully equipped to be able to detect and act upon security threats swiftly.”

The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers’ Association (ICoCA) provides regulations concerning responsible private security services. It regulates the security personnel’s general conduct such as treating others humanely, and the rules for the use of force. For instance, the use of force should only be used when necessary and should be directly proportional to the threat. ICoCA also gives guidelines on how to carry out apprehension and detention, prohibition of torture, slavery, human trafficking, forced and child labour, sexual exploitation, or gender-based violence. As for the private security firms, they are to carry out proper selection, vetting, and training of personnel including weapons training. They are also to provide a safe and healthy working environment free of harassment and be in compliance with grievance procedures. These companies should at all times have enough funds to cater for liabilities such as damage of property, personal injury or even death.

The Government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) launched the Montreux Document in early 2006, which is now intergovernmental. It sees that international law applies to private security and military companies. It contains international legal obligations to international humanitarian law and human rights, of private security or military companies present in armed conflicts. Currently, only five African countries support this document: Angola, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights is global and member-based. It endorses a set of principles that guide private security and military companies’ operations while upholding human rights. Its principles include risk assessment, companies and public security as well as companies and private security. It consists of 10 states with Ghana being the only African state.

Oloo Janak, the Kenya Correspondents Association Chair said, “Journalists should cover broad and diverse topics and not just politics. Private security isn’t taught in schools yet it’s a vital component in our society and should be sensitized as an emerging area. As a community, we also need to treat private security personnel with respect. They see and hear things we don’t and may be the ones to save our lives in life-threatening situations by, for instance, giving us information concerning our environment.”

The Usalama Reform Forum, the Kenyan government and other stakeholders successfully lobbying for the PSRA 2016 restructured private security governance in Kenya. In 2015, it also launched a mobile phone platform called Utumishi to research into the public assessment of police service delivery in 2015. It has also promoted safety initiatives in five communities in Kenya for violence prevention. The Usalama Reform Forum has also been working closely with media stakeholders such as the Kenya Correspondents Association to educate the media concerning private security governance in Kenya.

In conclusion, the ‘soldier’ or ‘Maasai’ at your gate, who you should refer to as a ‘security personnel/ guard’ deserves his/ her human rights adhered to else face legal action. They have lobby groups such as the Kenya National Private Security Workers Union (KNPSWU) that fight for their rights and present their grievances to the government, private security companies, and other actors. These personnel deserve basic necessities such as proper changing rooms, access to clean water, proper uniform, training, and even toilets. It has shifted to become a respectable occupation in society unlike how it was ignorantly viewed in the past. Treating them with dignity goes a long way.

By Marion Gachuhi (

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