Terrorism has become very real in Kenya and the subject of issuing of guns to private security guards has become a subject of discussion, and as a HR practitioner, I wish to weigh in on this very controversial subject.
Last week, the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General together with his Kenya National Private Security Workers Union (KNPSWU) counterpart addressed a press conference pushing for the arming of private security guards. From my experience with the private security industry, this is my argument:
There is a very high turnover of guards in the private security industry, mostly because of poor pay. Employers don’t know where 80% of these guards reside and tracing them become a problem. The minimum wage for a night security guard (I’m using the higher amount since the day guard rate is different) as from 1st May, 2018 is Kshs. 15,142 in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu, Kshs. 14,038 in Municipalities and Town Councils and Kshs. 8,636 in other areas. The above pay has a direct impact on the living conditions of the guards, as most of them reside in slums.
Then there are very many small private security companies now operating in Kenya, most of which are not members of the Kenya Security Industry Association (KSIA) and are not paying the above minimum wage. It is a fact that government offices, including Parastatals do not pay private security companies enough to enable them pay the employees working in their premises the minimum wage. Yet, it is the same government that expects these companies to adhere to the Wages Order.
The other thing is about the minimum qualifications of a guard and the kind of training the guards undergo before deployment. Due to the high turnover, most guards do not undergo a training for more than two weeks before they are assigned to the various assignments. It is very rare to find a company hiring guards with diplomas, most are either form four leavers or lower. Combine poor training, very low qualifications and lack of proper supervision, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Guns are not toys. Placing a gun in the hands of a civilian, putting into consideration all the above will not make this country more secure. Infact, this will give birth to local terrorists. The government needs to be able to control this situation by hiring more of its security personnel, training them properly, arming them and placing them all across the country. To argue that the private companies will establish which assignments need to have their guards armed is a joke. What criteria will they use? Is it a client’s ability to pay for this service or what?
No life is more important that another. If it is a matter of security, every individual and establishment needs to be secured properly. And so, in my opinion, private security guards should not be given firearms.