When Nairobi residents Howard Crooks and Derek Oatway got fed up with playing golf and decided to start a business together in 1994, their attention was captured by a small security company based on the coast at Mombasa. Senior consultant Rocky Hitchcock tells John O’Hanlon how KK Security brought professionalism to East Africa’s security industry.
The ‘KK’ in KK Security stands for Kenya Kazi (kazi is Kiswahili for ‘work’). Though it was losing money, Howard Crooks and Derek Oatway thought the business had potential so, welcoming the challenge, they brought in security specialist Rocky Hitchcock and set about turning KK Security into a truly professional and profitable security company for East Africa.
Hitchcock was a British Army veteran with experience in a number of African countries and so was qualified to assist in delivering this vision. Today he is KK’s senior consultant based in Nairobi, where the company moved as soon as it secured its first major contract with Kenya Breweries (a division of the UK’s Diageo Group). By that time, KK was well established, not just in Kenya but regionally. Its foundation coincided with the end of Rwanda’s internecine war and KK was the first foreign security company to open for business there. “They needed someone untainted by association with the Belgians to provide security for the United Nations operations there,” explains Hitchcock. “We provided that assurance and trained security officers for the UN buildings and facilities.”
Back in Nairobi, the Breweries contract was followed by another windfall contract. The 1998 bomb attack on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam made the security of these assets one of the most sensitive jobs on the planet, so it was a huge endorsement for KK’s reputation and capability when in 2002 the existing service provider failed to perform and the contract was given to KK Security, to guard not only the Embassy but also the ‘Family’—all the dependants of the Embassy.
KK still holds that contract, providing 800 security officers as the largest contingent of the 5,200 currently working for KK within the city. “The market is huge,” says Hitchcock. “2,000 security companies are registered in Kenya, though most of them are very small operations characterised by workers who have to buy their own uniforms out of a subsistence wage. In the UK, they would be called ‘man and a van’ operations but here they would be more of a ‘man and a bicycle’ operation.” As a founder member of the Kenya Security Industries Association (KSIA), KK is an elite organisation that has done more than any other to professionalise the industry, he says.
KK’s reputation is largely based on its training. “We decided early on that our USP would lie in training security officers,” he explains. “We brought out former British Army SNCOs who were versed in training and put them together with young lads from the Kenya National Youth Service who had both language skills and some discipline to create training teams.” These teams were dispatched to Kenya’s large agricultural estates, where over the years they have trained nearly 8,000 security officers.
Prior to this, training in security was not done locally. The KK Team combined military and police experience to produce a training manual that was submitted to and validated by the Security Industry Training Organisation (SITO) in the UK. Today a certificate of security training from KK is seen throughout East Africa as the most reliable industry qualification, Hitchcock says—when recruiting security managers for clients, many of the applicants’ CVs are supported by copies of the certificates gained when they were working initially for KK as security officers.
There’s a training centre at each of KK’s locations, using modern technology to the full. The basic security officer course lasts a full 12 days, the supervisor’s course six days and various specialised one or two week modules are run in disciplines such as mobile response, hospitality industry or diplomatic security, including a special US government accredited course for officers allocated to the US Embassy. The trainers themselves also undergo a two month course. In summary, KK training goes well beyond the industry standard of even the UK.
The next step will be a national training academy. This, like a proposed new control room manned by multilingual controllers and equipped with the latest IP-based surveillance data management systems, will be built near the Nairobi racecourse, close to the existing dog kennels.
Every one of KK’s 16,800 security officers is brought in for a three-day refresher course each year. On top of this, they are rewarded and incentivised in a professional way. Their wages are as secure as the cash they guard, invariably paid electronically into an account set up for them at a bank of their choice. This works well: East Africa is a cash-based society but it has a sophisticated network of ATMs, and officers in remote locations can be paid though Safaricom’s MPesa mobile phone cash transfer system.
As KK expanded, it placed security teams into gold and diamond mines in the Mwanza area of Tanzania, purchasing a small company that gave it a base in Arusha. It won a contract at Africa’s largest sugar estate, Kilombero Sugar, where it had a chance to demonstrate its innovative thinking by introducing camels for the patrols. “Camels are quiet and they raise the officers high enough to see over the sugar.” It then went on to win Tanzania Breweries in not only Dar es Salaam but also all over the country.
KK understands animals—its Nairobi kennels are home to nearly 600 dogs, 12 dog vehicles and a centre where kennel hands, handlers and trainers go through courses accredited by the UK National Association of Security Dog Users (NASDU). “We train the handlers more than the dogs themselves,” says Jaun Mioch, who heads up this unit. “We don’t carry firearms, but dogs are more effective anyway. If you tell a guy, ‘Stop or I’ll release the dog’ he stops!” In East Africa, most break-ins are attempted by groups of people: Mioch relates an incident where a mob of 13 men were attacking a client’s facility but were dispersed by a single handler and his dog.
Firearms make dangerous situations worse, says Hitchcock. KK, for example, manages security at 15 locations for the United NationsOrganisation Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We guard their bases: they have guns but we don’t. We don’t do guns anywhere—even in Uganda where historically all security companies are armed. The role of a security officer is to ‘Deter by his presence; Detect by his senses; Deny entry’ (if possible)—but not on any account to die for the client. In other words, to run and call for assistance from the ‘big battalions’.”
Three years ago, KK Security diversified into facilities management; last year it purchased an ailing fire and ambulance company in Kenya; and it started a cash in transit business, KK Lodgit, in conjunction with Irish based International Risk Management Services with the intention of changing the face of CIT, moving from pure ‘muscle’ in the shape of armoured vehicles to technology-based ‘smoke & dye’ solutions to the protection of cash. It has also been invited into Malawi and Zambia; and it has been looking at Nigeria and the Gulf.
However, KK Security has already achieved its primary goal: it has grown around 20 per cent every year since it was founded, more than justifying Howard Crooks’ (although Crooks bowed out in 1998 as the company was not growing as fast as he would have liked!) and Derek Oatway’s vision.