11 February 2013

Sierra Leone: Private Security Agencies and Insecurity in Sierra Leone


Unemployment is often a very topical and highly debatable issue in the academia, at the international level and amongst policy makers. Nevertheless, it's startling and astounding that underemployment is hardly heard of or is rarely brought to the fore.

Although the International Labour Organisation has painstakingly codified fascinating employment rules and regulations with the aim of mitigating exploitation of workers the world over, yet the problem persists.

Underemployment in Sierra Leone is a serious problem and is already endemic and employers are taking undue advantage of the situation (high rate of unemployment) to trample on workers' fundamental human rights. The Formal Sector being incapable of absorbing the unemployed within the main stream of government, is insufficient a reason for employers within the Informal Sector to create slavish employment for their fellow Sierra Leoneans. Such slavish subjection of our vulnerable brothers and sisters contravenes both domestic and international laws.

The premise of this piece therefore is to highlight the potential dangers of underemployment - with particular attention to security agencies operating in Sierra Leone. It is commonsensical that private security agencies are expected to augment and consolidate national security managed by the police and their affiliated institutions. The most profound question is: how can security agencies in Sierra Leone become agents of insecurity at the same time? Isn't this inconceivable and paradoxical if not seemingly self-contradictory?

To be laconic, the lever that turns security into insecurity in this debate is underemployment. Although there are few credible security agencies in Sierra Leone that are offering some reasonable wages to their employees, nonetheless, a good number of the security agencies are culpable of underemployment.

Research indicates that majority of the security agencies in Sierra Leone (after making very lucrative contracts with their clients) are offering a monthly salary of Le 150,000 (that is roughly £22) per security personnel. Even at such awful rate, the payment is irregular and inconsistent. With the current spate of armed robbery in the country, I wonder whether these mediocre security agencies really know the potential dangers they are exposing their clients to - by underpaying their security personnel.

Within the realm of security - that is to say state and private security agencies - underemployment and lack of encouragement can lead security personnel to easily get involved in some amoral, unethical and unscrupulous acts. In plain and simple language, it can lure security personnel to compromise security.

Moreover, it will induce the security personnel to involve in petty theft at work, accepting bribes from criminal gangs and consequently renege on their duties in a time when their services are really needed. That is, when armed robbers besiege the client's premises the security personnel has only one option - and that is to flee. From a deontological perspective, such security personnel have lost their moral standing and it's unimaginable for security personnel on a monthly salary of Le 150,000 per month to sacrifice their lives in defence of the client. But who is to blame?

It is disappointing, appalling and absolutely unacceptable if not wholly inexcusable for security agencies to mentally trick their clients by making lucrative contract with them, and in return provides underpaid and dissatisfied security personnel who can't protect the client at all reasonable cost due to the employer's greed and inhumane acts. Such a behavioural pattern is tantamount to "419" but one with a colossal ramification - and therefore, the government should step in and take some corrective measures before it is too late.

Such lynching mind-set (of the employers) among many other interpretations, further suggests that the proprietors of these security agencies know nothing about security in the first place. They are only interested in quick money making by exposing both their employees and their clients to existential danger.

In many of the most advanced western countries, private security agencies serve as complementary institutions to state security. But not all Jack and Jill can wake up in the morning after having some form of hallucination or phantasmagoria and decide to establish a security company. Far from it! The rigours to establish one are enormous and Sierra Leone must emulate that in order to protect our citizens from such mediocre and nuisance security proprietors.

According to reliable research (without name dropping), most of the proprietors of security companies in Sierra Leone have little or no security background. Some of them have merely worked for one or two security companies and within a period of two years, defect and establish their own security company...just imagine the mediocrity and potential insecurity.

I therefore call on all my brothers and sisters having security personnel at their premises to read this article carefully and rethink their contracts within the context of security and insecurity. Most of these security personnel are being exploited by their employers but they have no choice except to continue hence there is no (quick) next option.

These guys are poorly paid, discontented and hungry...and as Bob Marley once said "a hungry man is an angry man" and remember an angry man is an "irrational man" who is capable of doing anything or incapable of doing nothing.

The profound question is: who do you have in front of your gate/door? A security or an insecurity? You may commence a sincere and thorough reflection now as I urge the Government of Sierra Leone to look into this insecurity and find ways and means to tackle it. Am concerned!

The Government of Sierra Leone must enact anti-piracy laws to ensure that pirates pay for their actions. I say this because many people are of the conviction that as far as the legal process is concerned, it is a fallacy that pirates are not prosecuted or imprisoned. At present, there are over 1000 Somali pirates held in custody in over 20 countries, including three key pirate leaders and financiers. Quite recently, another 11 pirates were sentenced in the Seychelles to 10 years imprisonment.

What is frustrating in the struggle against piracy is to detain pirates and not be able to prosecute them. To avoid widespread pirate activities in Sierra Leone in particular and West Africa in general, we must put modalities in place to detain, prosecute and imprison (pirates) ideally where the crime is committed. I'm convinced this is what regional partners want too. Where there is evidence, and therefore the possibility of conviction, the full force of the law must be executed. This is imperative because, we do not want any "catch and release situations" in Sierra Leone - hence this will lead to impunity and impunity, as we all know, undermines the Rule of Law and capacitate criminals in a phenomenal manner.

To this end, the Government of Sierra Leone should undertake ground breaking projects on prisons, prosecutions and transfer agreements in conjunction with international law and cooperation between and amongst states. Why is this significant? This is important for many fundamental reasons but for the purpose of this piece, I will limit it to the peripheral rationale. First of all, piracy even when committed in the territorial waters of Sierra Leone still has an international flavour. Also piracy is never an isolated issue - hence pirates deal with weapons, drugs, money laundering and kidnapping. Moreover, let's say our naval force pursues pirates and finally arrest them beyond our territorial waters, under what laws do we try them? do we try them under domestic law or international law?

Finally, if they are tried and convicted, they must be taken to prison. Question: Is our maximum security prisons really up to international standards to incarcerate such criminals? When I approached the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs - Hon. ShekaTarawally about this sensitive security issues (particularly the one on the maximum security prisons), he was upbeat that transforming the prisons is part of the President Koroma's Agenda for Prosperity. He concluded in a subtle tone, "The prisons will be rehabilitated and presented as a reforming centre - because prisons are not meant to deform people but rather the contrary".

Having said that, the rise in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is engulfed with serious implications for oil-producing countries. Countries along the Gulf of Guinea produce more than 4.7 million barrels of oil per day, with the majority of production coming from Nigeria (2.2 million bpd) and Angola (1.7 million bpd), whiles Ghana's Jubilee Field is projected to produce 120,000 bpd by the beginning of 2012 and Sierra Leone is set to join the team of rich guys.

For now security analysts don't anticipate piracy in West Africa will deter investment; rather it will raise the cost of doing business, as companies put measures in place to deter pirates. In fact, the negative effects of piracy on both regional trade and the oil industry will most likely not be felt by businesses at all, but rather are borne by the countries of West Africa and their citizens. To underscore the above argument, it is highly likely that when the cost of shipping consumer hikes for traders, these price spikes is passed on to the public. Consequently, any oil that gets stolen and resold on the black market is obviously not taxed, hence representing lost revenue for the state.

African countries lack the resources to contribute to such an effort. They do not have the money and the hardware to run adequate surveillance at sea. Oil-rich Nigeria for instance, in whose waters most piracy in West Africa occurs, and which appears to have the best navy in the region is also not free from the fangs and venom of pirates. Security analysts and military experts have argued that Nigeria's Navy is ill-equipped and underfunded-leaving the sea vulnerable to the pirates.

South Africa is in a stronger position, and its air force patrols the coast daily. But air patrols can easily miss a ship or the speedboats favoured by pirates. Moreover, South Africa does not have a satellite-based security system, which could monitor ships passing within 1500km of the coast. Judging from such analytical approach, it could be argued that one cannot rely on regional solutions (alone) to solve piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

To this end, the US and European countries are working with African navies to enhance their capacities and engage in joint policing in the Gulf of Guinea. Nevertheless, critics have maintained that such partnerships are partly driven by the West's strategic interest in oil exporting from the region. The recent use of West African waters by traffickers of cocaine is another significant reason for the West to partner with African leaders - hence they don't want Europe to be flooded with drugs.

Finally, human right analysts and activists have also posited that as most West Africans are using the sea as a means to reach the shores of Europe, the West have therefore thought it fit to strengthen African navies so as to deter immigrants from entering Europe. Therefore, one can arguably conclude that Western powers are more interested in combating migration, facilitating oil export and fighting drug trafficking rather than tackling piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

To conclude, let me offer few maritime security and intelligence recommendations for "public consumption". To be effective against pirates, Africa's coastal countries would need effective early warning and intelligence services, credible deterrent and reaction forces, high mobility and the ability to sustain operations for longer periods.

1. Try and identify the enemy by utilising thorough intelligence network - knowing who the pirates are, locating their likely operational area and the new tactics they are most likely to adopt.

2. Closely monitor situations in Somalia and draw similarities to help us stay a step ahead of pirates.

3. Implement innovative security and intelligence measures to prevent against wider maritime crimes such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, kidnapping and human trafficking.

4. Be well informed about pirate activities and use such intelligence to shape our security strategy.

5. Study how neighbouring countries and the International Maritime Bureau are responding to pirate threat and draw up a flexible but responsive approach to tackle this menace.

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