Regulation of the private security sector is seen as a prerequisite to allowing guards to carry firearms as proposed in the Private Security Regulation Bill 2010, a measure seen as a deterrent to crime, but which could also become a security risk if arms filter to criminals.
Countries like Uganda, Morocco and Canada allow private guards to be armed under strict regulations. However, whether allowing guards to carry arms is or is not a crime deterrent measure is debatable. In Uganda, for example, opportunistic armed crime is less than in Kenya -- attributed to armed private guards.
In Morocco, armed guards were introduced after a spate of terrorist attacks. It is not clear whether the move has succeeded in reducing crime. In Canada, private guards are licensed as individuals and are therefore directly answerable to the state. The proposed Bill is the first attempt to regulate the private security sector in Kenya, estimated to have 3,000 companies and tens of thousands of guards.
Misuse of arms
Firearm related crime has been rising in Kenya, blamed on the growing number of illicit guns that filter in from war-torn Somalia. Kenya Security Industry Association Chairman Caxton Munyoki said arming guards should not be a priority because the sector lacks adequate personnel to train guards on firearms handling and arms storage facilities.
"The practicability of arming guards now is not possible," said Mr Munyoki, a licensed arms dealer. "The police and army go through rigorous training on the discipline of handling guns, why do we want to give the same guns to guards who have only been trained for two weeks?" He said the nature of employment and pay package for guards, estimated at Sh5,000 to Sh18,000 per month, makes them vulnerable to misuse of firearms or hiring out their guns to criminals for financial gain.
Security analysts said the move could end up increasing the number of illicit arms because lack of adequate storage facilities means they would filter into criminals' hands. "We may wipe out gains made on the security front if we arm private guards. It is possible to do that in future, when proper systems on training, handling, and storage are established," said Mr Munyoki.
But a section of security companies said they were willing to arm their guards, adding that a law should be established to guide operations of the industry. The law is also expected to result in better pay for guards. Setting up a private security company in Kenya does not require vetting. This fact has seen the proliferation of "briefcase" security companies.
Private military companies have also set up bases in the country because of the high presence of regional relief organisations that require their services. The firms also carry out military training services in South Sudan and Somalia as well as vessel guarding services in the Indian Ocean to deter pirates. Earlier, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the force was opposed to the proposal of arming guards in favour of armed police reservists.
Security studies scholar Kennedy Mkutu said in an earlier report that arming private guards "is a quick fix solution meant to save the exchequer. The proposal will encourage more importation of small arms and could heighten inter-ethnic communal tensions as individuals join the small arms race and lead to the mushrooming of militia groups which we have seen in Somalia, Sudan, DRC, and even Uganda." The Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) and the Consumer Federation of Kenya have also opposed the proposal.
"Kepsa, who has among its members the Kenya Security Industry Association and the Protective Security Industry Association, had the opportunity to present a memorandum to the Police Reforms Task Force and it was categorical that we do not feel yet that private security guards should be armed," chief executive officer Carole Kariuki said.
Kepsa has instead proposed a higher spend on recruiting more police officers. Kenya is yet to meet the United Nations ideal police to civilian ratio of one officer for every 400 civilians. The current ratio is estimated at 1:1,000. Analysts have suggested that enhancing cooperation between private guards and the police would be the most ideal way of deterring crime in Kenya.
They suggest that private guards should be given communication equipment that feed information to the police communication system. Such information, analysts said, should be accompanied by rapid reaction from the police. "This is one of the most ideal ways of easing crime rather than arming the guards," said Mr Munyoki.
Industry insiders said some private security companies already arm a small, elite, section of their guards who are responsible for the security of important people and high value facilities, a practice seen as a possible future model of arming private security guards.