April 2016

East Africa Security Focus

New Risks Necessitate New and Nuanced Security Responses

Photo of Robbie Kirk MBA, CMgr FCM

By Robbie Kirk MBA, CMgr FCM, Business Development Director, G4S Risk Management

Robbie Kirk joined G4S in 2013 after successfully completing an MBA with Plymouth University and qualifying as a Chartered Manager. He held the position of Shell Regional Account Manager, Asia and the Middle East based in Malaysia for two years, before appointment to his current role. As Business Development Director for G4S Risk Management based out of Dubai, he employs deep understanding of strategic risk to enable business in hostile environments in Africa, Middle East and Latin America.

Robbie joined G4S after a prolonged career in the UK Royal Marines and Special Forces, employed principally in the high-risk, strategic security market. He has significant expertise in counter-terrorism (land and maritime), counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, and kidnap and ransom (K&R). He was an executive member of the UK Maritime Advisory Group and Counter Terrorist National Planning Team, and deployed as Chief of Staff for Task Group Headquarters in Afghanistan. He is a UK accredited Hostage Negotiator and SIA close-protection officer.


East Africa may prove better insulated against the fiscal vulnerabilities facing West African states arising from oil price shocks, surpluses in commodity markets, and tightening global financial conditions.  But it shares a broader unpredictability which associates African markets with political conflict, globalised terror networks, climate change, food insecurity, drought, infrastructure poverty, viral pandemics, and corruption.

Governments and businesses in East Africa understand that combinations of these factors can trigger political, social, and economic unrest at short notice. Threat vectors have bridged continental boundaries between the Middle East, Africa and Europe, having mutated to overcome conventional risk mitigation methodologies; and thus, creating a new risk paradigm which demands a more nuanced and aligned response from investment risk and security risk managers.

The trades of security risk management and investment risk management are correspondingly analytical, and East Africa remains a desirable investment destination for businesses with an appetite to embrace risk and balance threats and opportunities intelligently through selective risk and decision making analytics.  By example, the investment trend in East Africa remains positive, with strong evidence in Kenya to support this as FDI inflows in 2014-2015 withstood the headwinds from recent terror attacks to grow by 200%. Technology innovation, political reform, education, healthcare development, and investor perception are critical drivers of this positive momentum, yet each faces multiple layers of direct action risk, which exposes vulnerabilities and terrorises, and a more diffuse and consequential risk, which constrains wealth creation and economic growth.

It is incumbent upon governments to legislate for trading conditions, which promote investor confidence and public equity, and attract sufficient competitive capital inflows to drive public infrastructure development and wealth creation.  The private security sector acts as an investor in this transaction by ensuring that the financial investor’s margin of safety is reduced or in the worst case maintained. Security management models have been conditioned by the globalisation and diversification of commercial and threat actors alike; and, consequently, this new risk paradigm has enforced a cultural adjustment upon security providers, where compliance with internationally recognised standards for service quality, business ethics, and environmental management is an important creator of goodwill.

Thus, security solutions are being designed at the heart of more traditional business practices and the marketing positions of many security sector businesses have shifted from brazen self-assuredness, to the promotion of positive environmental, social and governance credentials.  Whereas in the past, some security firms had a shadowy aura about them, a new breed of large security corporates has emerged which is professional, transparent, accountable and serves a diverse set of local, regional and international stakeholders.

One visible change in the security sector is an increased focus on adopting a safety-first culture, and commitment to international best practices on human rights, as manifested in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR).  VPSHR is a set of security-related guidelines applicable to the interaction between companies, governments and NGOs, with a specific resonance for extractive and security sector businesses.

This is fit and proper, as managing complex risk in hostile environments requires investment and collaboration with local communities, with an attendant cultural understanding and empathy.  Embedded security experts, committed to building capacity at the local level and leaving a positive and sustainable legacy, are more aligned with this new risk management model.

Equally, the application of security products and services is also increasing in scope and innovation, and the well-adapted provider will design comprehensive solutions which manage risk from project concept to execution, and on through the investment life-cycle.  Redundancy is designed-in and enabled by technology, adding predictability to the investor’s margin of safety.  In East Africa, examples of these whole-life cycle propositions includes: country or market risk analyses; training and capacity building; social engagement programme management; remote camp life support services; and a convergence of physical and technological security measures.
The increase in project scales and complexity has imposed greater reliance on automation, where integrated suites of security technologies act neutrally to enable incident management and response processes to be initiated, coordinated and analysed intelligently, independently and remotely.  While the image of ‘Big Brother’ technologies has been categorised as an unwelcome intrusion on public liberty, the ability of well sited, aesthetically designed, unobtrusive, and remotely monitored devices to detect, deter and initiate an automated response to security or health and safety hazards is a quantifiable and verifiable means of reducing residual and insurable risks.

Another key technological factor at the heart of risk management innovation is the march towards an ‘Internet of Things’. This is positively influencing the design of risk management services, from low level cyber security counter-measures to grand strategic partnerships with technology corporations for the creation of futuristic ‘safe cities’ in East Africa, where risk is managed and mitigated in a highly sophisticated and systemic partnership between technological and operational services. Complex operational risk management decisions are increasingly informed and enabled by innovative cyber and communications technologies.  In an era defined by global networks of socially interconnected threat actors and franchises, the expertise, capability and capacity of the security provider must constantly evolve to meet market demands.

The current paradigm shift to a more nuanced, analytical, and a fully invested security supplier is highly important. Historically, investors, international corporations, non-governmental organisations, scientists and security managers have been unusual bedfellows; yet, the prevailing context of globalised security risks that is impacting directly upon business in East Africa has created a professional accord that, nonetheless, is able to prosper. Operational complexity in fragile states in East Africa shapes investor perceptions of localised risk factors, where collaborative partnerships with security stakeholders and sustainable social engagement programmes are critical factors of success.

Security majors like G4S rely on the information we have today to provide contingency planning for tomorrow. We provide governments and businesses with concrete planning criteria. We focus on questions of feasibility, and cost-benefit analysis to help determine whether the investment required is justified by the potential windfall.  In East Africa, as elsewhere, G4S Africa and G4S Risk Management work together at the forefront of this new ‘Risk Order’ to enable governments, international organisations and multinational corporations to grow and prosper.