Business

Kenyan security industry grows in Westgate aftermath

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Media captionNew training for security guards puts emphasis on pre-empting an attack

A lot has changed in Kenya since the attack at the Westgate shopping mall a year ago.

Other shopping centres have increased the number of their security officers - and frisking people before they enter buildings, public transport vehicles and even churches is now common.

While the attack contributed to a fall in revenues in the country's important tourism sector, it has also boosted business in the private security industry.

"In a way it has [boosted business] because our clients have been concerned," says James Omwando, chief executive of the security firm, KK, of the new emphasis on security.

"They've taken on additional security officers, they've invested in new equipment - CCTVs and access control."

The company's training centre on the outskirts of Nairobi is busier than ever. New recruits march for hours as they answer their instructor at the top of their voices.

Their clean-shaven heads, navy blue shorts, white socks and shoes are meant to help instil discipline.

"Even in terms of general recruitment we're now looking for a better educated, higher profile security officer who'll be able to understand what's being looked into because the challenges are many," says training manager Lucas Ndolo.

Image caption Security spending has increased significantly since the Westgate attack

Ndolo, a former military intelligence officer, says even though understanding terrorism has always been part of the training, they have had to put more emphasis on it.

"We emphasise more on surveillance, detection, profiling and what security officers are looking for in the field," he says.

Increased collaboration

The soon-to-graduate guards are taking their lessons in a wooden classroom. A lot of the lessons taught are focused on preventing attacks.

"It is better to press the panic button when you realise that a person is gathering information, instead of you pressing the panic button when they've come to attack," a trainer lectures the class of about 20 trainees.

"You saw what happened at Westgate?" he goes on, as they answer in the affirmative.

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Image caption Armed police guide a woman and a child to safety during the Westgate attack

One of the first victims of the Westgate gunmen was the mall's security officer.

For security companies such as KK, one positive thing that has come out of the widely publicised attack is that they now collaborate a lot more with Kenya's security services.

"We get police officers coming here to help train our people. We've been in touch with the bomb people, the criminal investigation [and] anti-terrorism [officers] who come here to train our people," says Lucas Ndolo.

They also work together in conducting security operations.

That co-ordination is also beneficial to the police, who number about 80,000.

Image caption KK says its control centre is getting busier

Increased security spending

While the UN recommends a ratio of one police officer for every 400 civilians, Kenya has only half as many officers that would be required to meet that.

The Kenyan government has increased its security budget this year by 24% to $1.7bn (£1bn) from last year's $1.3bn. Part of that money is meant to employ 10,000 more police officers.

In the meantime, the estimated 300,000 private security officers are supplementing efforts to make civilians feel safer.

But not everyone can afford to pay for private security officers, and technology is a cheaper security solution.

"[Many people] are looking for alarms so that our vehicles can respond in the event of a problem," says KK's James Omwando.

The company's control centre is getting ever busier, he says, with the team monitoring phone calls and alarms going off at their clients' premises.

Image caption Security checks in Nairobi are now common

Checks criticised

A government bid to buy and install CCTV cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa has been riddled in controversy and is yet to be implemented.

Most attacks have targeted the two major cities.

Walking through the streets of the capital you see security officers standing at buildings' entrances frisking people using metal detectors.

Female officers inspect women's bags and belongings while their male counterparts check the men.

But security analyst George Musamali argues that the checks are not thorough enough.

"When the item beeps, this person [should] remove what he's carrying," he says.

"Then if it's a dangerous weapon, you're supposed to have been given the action on what you need to do once you've identified that this person is carrying a weapon or something that is dangerous.

"You deny access, have him arrested, hand him to the police."

Image caption Security fears have affected Kenya's economic growth

He interprets the fact that there have been several attacks since security was improved to mean that the improved measures have not succeeded.

"But let's give credit to them because so far most of the cases we've seen are that these grenades are being lobbed from outside the vehicles - they're being lobbed from outside supermarkets."

So in a way, he says, they have helped deter more attacks.

Economic impact

But security is still a concern for both locals and visitors.

The daring siege of the remote agricultural town of Mpeketoni, an hour's drive from Lamu island, in June reinforced fears that the government had not done enough to maintain security.

Partly as a result of that state of affairs, the country's growth projections for 2014 have been revised down by as much as 0.5% from 5.2%.

For the security industry however, this is likely to mean more business.

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