Inside the muscle business

Monday, November 25th, 2019 00:00 |
Bouncer. Photo/Courtesy

Everybody wants to feel safe and thousands of people hire private security service providers to get the service. However, the industry is plagued with a myriad of challenges and untold politicking and drama, writes MANUEL NTOYAI 

On paper, the security business might look lucrative, but the reality on the ground seems to be the contrary. The recent daylight killings of six bouncers in Busia opened a can of worms on the challenges dogging the sector.

The six had travelled from Kisumu after being hired to provide security (or protection) services at the funeral of a slain businessman.

Their gruesome killings by a mob of irate villagers led to an outcry from members of the public and the Kenya National Private Security Workers Union, the country’s bouncers’ umbrella body.

However, when it comes to the business of protecting celebrities and the wealthy, long gone are the days when the muscles were everything. As much as having a colossus and intimidating physical appearance might be handy, especially when it comes to crowd control, having a regular looking guy who can mingle with the crowd is considered more convenient.

There is a blurred line between executive security and celebrity security. In the former, there is little fuss because of the level of recognition and interactions with the general public.

For the executives, their lives are mostly about hopping from one meeting to another and eventually retire to their homes that are mostly in posh leafy suburbs. 

For celebrities, on the other hand, theirs is a lifestyle littered with the glitterati and comes with a lot of demands.

Shuffling between airports, helping clear human traffic and protecting the clients against projectiles, among other risks, does not sound like an easy job, yeah?

While many of us would be forgiven that being close to the stars is a privilege and something to be awed of, working with or for them is a whole different story.

“Handling celebrities is a whole different and difficult business. We are talking about people who court attention wherever they go, people with inflated egos, individuals who walk with a lot of liquid cash, have unmarked stalkers, and much more. It isn’t an easy task,” Mike Kuria, who has been handling celebrity protection for more than 10 years now, intimates to Spice.

Crooked procedures

According to him, there is a lot of unprofessionalism in the sector due to a number of reasons; one being lack of proper regulation.

“There are a lot of issues facing this industry that is bread and butter for thousands of people. We have sexual harassment cases where both young men and women are exploited.

Some randy bosses even demand to sleep with us, while others give us extra work with little or no extra pay,” says Kuria.

Bouncers are normally employed on a casual basis with the muscle being preferred instead of professional qualifications, which is important.

David Odhiambo, the Association of Bouncers of Kenya director of recruitment, validation and certification, echoes Kuria’s sentiments.

“For a long time, the industry has been dealing with unscrupulous business people who get subcontracted to provide ‘muscle’ at events.

Most of us working at clubs have no binding contract, but the brokers always take the lion’s share of the loot. This is despite the fact that we handle the most difficult part of the task,” says Odhiambo.

He adds, “What happened in Busia is sad and regrettable, but it reflects the reality on the ground. The association hopes to make the industry better and offer employment opportunities, especially to the youth.

We are pushing for the Private Security Act to be ratified because we believe it will give us the job security we’ve been desiring.”

Anticipated efficiency

While technology has somehow eased their work, bouncers claim social media is giving them a hard time.

“A majority of celebrities tend to post their every move on their social media platforms, but this makes it extremely challenging, especially when you are tasked to deal with stalkers or persons with ulterior motives,” says Kuria.

Industry players feel the expected regulations would be handy to chisel important details such as trainings, certification, insurance and minimum wage for the bouncers — who form part of the 500,00-strong workforce under the Kenya National Private Security Workers Union (KNPSWU).

“With the debate of arming private guards with firearms still raging, there is need for sober debate when it comes to this. You cannot protect someone when your are exposed to danger and with no means to counter it.

We are not saying that every guard or security person should be given a gun, but we are talking about assessing every possible situation,” says KNPSWU secretary general Isaac Adabwa.

According to Adabwa, the Private Security Act will address loopholes and disparities within the sector.

“The document prepared by Fazul Mohammed will better the sector, especially when it comes to the welfare of the guards and other people that handle private security.

They willl be trained and equipped to handle the pressures that come with their work. At the moment, there are cartels that have been creating bottlenecks towards the realisation of these efforts.

They want to create impasse on things such as the minimum wage, which will become one of the reference points even for the bouncers,” concludes Adabwa. 

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