Should private security guards have guns? Sobering lessons from Uganda


Should private security guards have guns? Sobering lessons from Uganda
File image of guns. PHOTO| COURTESY

In Summary

  • Uganda is home to at least 202 security companies most of which have head offices in Kampala and 50% of them are licensed to provide armed guards.
  • According to the Uganda's Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are at least 16,000 guns in the hands of these private firms.
  • Every security guard in Uganda must be registered with the Inspector General of Police before he or she is recruited by any private security organisation.

Debate is growing over whether Kenya should arm its security guards in the wake of the terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Drive.

But across the border, Uganda has had armed private guards since the 1980’s and some believe that the initiative has limited the number of terror attacks in the country.

Uganda is home to at least 202 security companies most of which have head offices in Kampala and 50% of them are licensed to provide armed guards, according to Uganda’s police spokesperson Fred Enanga.

“The private security organizations have a history that dates back to the 1980’s and over the years we have continually used them,” says Mr. Enanga.

When Citizen TV crew visited the Pinaccle Security Limited offices in Muyenga, eight kilometres from Kampala’s central business district, a training session on the safe use of lethal weapons was underway.

A trainee guard with no previous experience will need to be instructed for between two to six months before they can be cleared to carry a gun. The gun is provided by the security company who either lease it from the police or import it, if they have a dealer’s license.

According to the Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are at least 16,000 guns in the hands of these private firms.

One of the sayings we quickly picked up in Uganda is that one cannot apologize for a firearm mistake, so controls have to be strictly followed and carelessness which may lead to the misuse or loss of a fire-arm is unforgivable.

“We get involved with the police to report the theft of a fire-arm. They do a full investigation to locate a firearm. It’s a responsibility thing. That’s why we like to have our officers with guns strapped to them,” said Jeffrey Sanow of Pinnacle Security Limited.

The use of firearms in the private security sector is regulated under a legal provision known as the Police (Control of Private Security Organisations) supplement, 2013. Under this updated law, the police regulate the practise and supply most of the guns.

In addition, every security guard in Uganda must be registered with the Inspector General of Police before he or she is recruited by any private security organisation. The guards must renew their certificate of registration every year.

“The training is supervised by the police to ensure that these individuals have the necessary skills including gun-handling and so forth. First we take them through theory. We also take them into the standing orders governing private security. Then we take them into the theory of gun handling etc. Then we go into the practical aspect of it. And discipline. The drills,” said Mr. Enanga.

As night falls over the kampala skyline the city relies not just on the limited police force but also on private guards to keep its street safe. However, we wondered how easy it would be to disarm these dozing guards.

On Thursday last week, a security guard was arrested after he allegedly fired his weapon killing one person and injuring another in Central Kampala.

“Such problems occur when guards are not well-paid. You will not see this with the elite forces,” added Mr. Enanga.

The basic standard of education for security guards is the primary leaving exam which takes 7 years to complete equivalent to Kenya’s KCPE national test. Whether that is enforced depends on the company. It is also not clear how well paid or otherwise these guards are.

“If you pay them less. Little money. They cannot have discipline. Discipline depends on money,” says Egesa, a security analyst.

“The issue of pay should be a factor but that cannot be the only one. Because even people who are well paid still get into crime,” says the Uganda police spokesperson.

Uganda has enjoyed relative peace from terror attacks after the 2010 twin suicide attacks in Kampala that left 74 people dead and 71 injured.

Private security players believe that since then, armed guards have provided the right deterrent but they say without strict regulations these same guards could also create more problems on the domestic crime front.

Kenya currently ranks in 18th position on the global terrorism index rising by three positions whilst Uganda is at 52nd position having dropped by seven slots.

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Story By Waihiga Mwaura
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