Tainted professionalism: The folly plaguing private security guards

Thursday July 18 2019

Private security guards who were arrested for

Private security guards who were arrested for drinking in the morning hours on duty last year in Gulu. It is such unprofessionalism that causes many to question whether the guards are trained at all. File Photo 

By Paul Murungi

Serious questions are being raised on training standards of private security guards after the recent shooting that led to loss of life at Quality Shopping Village, Naalya. The incident, which took place on July 9, is said to have resulted from a verbal exchange between the security guard and a one Arnold Ainebyoona.

The disagreement arose from a trolley that had been pushed by Ainebyoona and his friends, which later hit another car causing damage. A polite request to amicably resolve the issue did not yield any positive results.

Whereas many private security companies are viewed as supplementing police work, it is also clear that because the private security industry is highly commercialised and competitive, laws can be broken by players to suit their needs.

According to Grace Matsiko, the chairperson of the Uganda Private Security Organisations, currently, Uganda has at least 202 private security companies, and a total of 45,000 to 60,000 private guards.
Matsiko says the recent incident in Naalya was regrettable and could not have escalated to that level; but also highlights the misunderstanding of the role of private guards by the public.
In this case, he says, the deceased tried to minimise the mandate of the guard.
“It was also an over reaction by the private guard,” he notes.

What could have been done?
According to Matsiko, the guard should have fired a warning shot in the air as a restraint to the command to alert the public of what was happening.

Matsiko also says, another option was for the guard to alert his colleague at the gate to close it so that there is no exit. Another warning shot according to Matsiko should have been fired by the guard to disable the vehicle by shooting at the tyres.


However, another security expert who preferred anonymity, differs with Matsiko, saying the guard should have recorded the car’s number plate and handed it over to his supervisor or owner of the scratched car and let the investigations continue.

Meanwhile, the security expert also says before the public blames the security guard for recklessly shooting, his background must be scrutinised.

He says: “Some of these private guards are former military officers. If he was trained in the military, they are trained to handle enemies. That is why maybe he had to shoot.”
There has also been public questions on whether private guards should hold guns. However, Matsiko quotes the Uganda Police Act and the Control of Private Security Regulations 2013, which he says mandates them to operate with guns.
However, he says, this depends on the company policy.

Handling of weapons
On many occasions, security guards have been found roaming freely with guns showing a lapse in private security regulations. Meanwhile, Matsiko says, weapons are stored in the armory from where the armory guard releases the weapons during deployment. He notes that it is illegal for private security guards to roam freely with guns.

*Opio, a private guard working with one of the security companies in Kampala, says whereas many are deployed to their guarding areas using vehicles, some prefer to walk so as to use the transport allowance for other needs. This creates a risk to the public because most have to walk with their guns.

Recruitment and training
“We mainly recruit Senior Four and Six leavers, but sometimes we also recruit secondary school dropouts,” Matsiko says.

“Usually an advert is placed in the media calling for private guards and a commissioner in charge of private security guards in the Uganda Police Force is in charge of overseeing the recruitment.

A letter from the LC, GISO, DISO, must be presented to the police through the security company, to check on the applicant’s conduct and in this case, finger printing is also done,” he adds.
He notes that the recruits undergo training, normally for about six months during which, gun handling is taught. Matsiko admits that sadly, some companies do not complete all the six months of training.

*Mugenyi, who has worked both in police and private security, says private security companies’ recruitment criteria must be questioned because some poach from other companies, especially if a guard has been fired. He says this is risky because it is very hard to know the background of such a person and why they were fired in the first place.

Welfare is minimal
Usually, after recruitment, guards are deployed to different places and are paid between Shs100,000 and Shs400,000 per month, depending on one’s rank in the company. Here, a guard must work for 12 hours a day. In simple mathematics, a guard’s services are valued at Shs5,000 per day.

Opio, says security charges to guard premises such as restaurants, supermarkets among others are between Shs500,000 to Shs2m and if a place is a bit risky, then, the charge may go up to Shs2.5m. Whenever, a guard absents him or herself without a clear reason, they are fined Shs5,000 per day of absence.

“Private security is a business where people invest in quantity rather than quality. Most private security operators are only looking at profits. For instance, if Shs600,000 is paid to guard a premise, and only Shs150,000 is paid to a guard as salary, it becomes frustrating,” Opio says.

Mugenyi says in comparison to the Uganda Police Force, the officers are well trained both mentally and physically, and despite the fact that some police officers earn less, at least government provides accommodation, water, electricity and sometimes food.

“To what extent is there welfare addressed?” he asks, “Their pay is miserable, they sleep in ghettos, and can easily be bribed. Psychologically, a satisfied person is a disciplined person but a hungry man is an angry man,” he concludes.

On Monday, police revoked licences of 40 private security companies for failing to meet the required standards and ordered vetting of the remaining firms.

The order to revoke the licences for 40 of 202 private security firms was issued by the Inspector General of Police, Martins Okoth-Ochola.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said the companies whose licences were cancelled had violated all the statutory standards set by the Internal Affairs ministry. Mr Enanga said the tightening of Private security Organisations’ regulations is intended to check commission of crimes by private guards.


The Uganda Private Security Association chairperson, Grace Matsiko, said the 40 private security organisations, whose annual operating licences have been revoked had issues with payment of gun fees to police and operating with low personnel capacity.
“These affected PSOs are working around the clock to pay the police gun rental fees and also increase their personnel capacity. We hope they will be given this year’s annual operator’s licence after fulfilling the requirements,” Matsiko said.
He said many Private Security organisations are facing operational challenges due to high taxes, ‘poaching’ of guards by labour export agencies and new regulations on deployment.

*The real names of those interviewed have been withheld