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Private Security Companies in Kenya and Dilemmas for Security

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What are the implications of the massive growth of private security companies in Kenya? This article, published by the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, argues that government failures have driven the proliferation of private security companies (PSCs) over the past two decades. This booming industry may itself represent a security threat if the state does not work to devise and implement adequate regulation policies for it. Based on primary data from site visits and interviews, this overview of the private security industry provides an analysis of its growth and current workings.

In Kenya, PSCs are defined by their provision of essentially defensive, unarmed services to businesses, property owners, offices and embassies. An emerging debate surrounds their new importance, though they remain distinct from private military firms which include personnel trained in military methods and equipment. In Kenya, the state has not surrendered the domain of security entirely, and private security should be understood in the larger context of security sector reform.

The findings below came out of an investigation into law and order, and the private security industry, in Kenya:

  • Police, government and municipal officials have often purposely ignored, for reasons of personal gain, the activities of extortionists and vigilantes. National security in both rural and urban areas has suffered greatly as a result, much more than previously estimated.
  • PSCs are private corporations aiming to maximise profit. Their business opportunities depend on clients’ feelings of insecurity, and do not automatically contribute to peacebuilding.
  • PSCs make an important supplementary contribution to state security by inexpensively protecting businesses, individuals, embassies and foreign missions, thus enabling prosperity. PSCs also represent a significant employer, particularly for individuals not qualified for state security work.
  • On the negative side, poor working conditions and a lack of training, education and regulation in PSCs worsen the security situation. Because profit motives are dominant, PSCs and their employees sometimes act contrary to the public interest.
  • A two-tier private security system currently divides Kenyans by social status. Wealthy citizens protect their homes with PSC personnel and high-tech defences. The middle class forms associations to jointly employ private individuals for security. Unprotected, except perhaps by volatile vigilantes, are the poorest Kenyans.
A number of policy implications from these findings suggest how the Kenyan state should think about the rise of PSCs and work to improve public security overall:
  • Communities understandably mistrust the police forces and seek other ways to combat crime. However, the rising use of PSCs may decisively shift the security situation in such communities, as the state closes police posts in certain PSC-dominated areas.
  • With no insight into the make-up or hiring of PSCs, the state runs the risk of being inappropriately influenced by the industry and its clients. Already PSCs employ over 300,000 individuals compared to 40,000 members of the police.
  • The Kenyan state should learn from the experience of other countries in dealing with PSCs, and define a policy and legal framework for regulating and monitoring PSC activity.
  • The arming of PSCs would lead to further insecurity for most Kenyans. As it is, vigilante groups have already seized entire neighbourhoods, claiming to provide protection but also extorting communities.
  • Development assistance programmes have their place in addressing the economic and social problems that lie beneath PSC growth.


Author: Kennedy A. Mkutu | Kizito Sabala
Source: Mkutu, K., Sabala, K.,2007,Private Security Companies in Kenya and Dilemmas for Security', Journal of Contemporary African Studies,vol. 25, no. 3,pp 391-416
Size: 27 pages (166 kB)