Photo credit: diamondforcesecurity.co.za
These days, you see them everywhere.
Clad in uniforms of various colours and designs, private security guards are a common sight at banks, company premises, gated residential estates, foreign embassies, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, churches, mosques and private schools.
Many of them wield batons, body scanners and sometimes, fiery guard dogs. Depending on their location, they watch, scan and often search visitors and vehicles entering the premises.
Estimates suggest that the number of private security guards across Africa is now more than double the number of police and government security forces on the continent. According to this article by Bloomberg, about 446,000 registered security guards operate in South Africa, compared with 270,000 police officers and soldiers.
In Nigeria, there are over 3,000 registered private security companies and hundreds more operating informally in the country. In Kenya, roughly 2,000 security firms operate in the country.
Across Africa, the number of private security outfits is growing really fast and they have become major providers of employment in many countries, responsible for a significant number of entry-level jobs, especially for young people.
Some people think the growing number of private security businesses on the continent is a good thing because of the increased security and employment opportunities they provide. Others think security should not be a private matter; it should be a free social service provided by every government for its people.
Whichever side of the debate you’re on, it’s important to note that the large and growing demand for private security guards from individuals, companies and even governments across the continent has created a lucrative multi-billion dollar business opportunity.
And that’s what this article is about.
This article looks at the two biggest reasons why private security businesses are booming in Africa and the inspiring success story of a female entrepreneur in Zimbabwe who defied the odds of the male-dominated private security industry to create one of her country’s most successful security outfits.
So, Why Are Private Security Businesses Booming In Africa?
There are reasons for the explosive growth experienced by private security businesses in Africa. While there are several factors responsible for this boom in private security on the continent, here are the top two:
1) Understaffed, poorly-paid and ill-equipped police
Providing security for lives and property is a fundamental responsibility of every government. This is obviously the reason why every country in Africa has a police force.
However, in almost every case, government police forces don’t do a good job because they’re grossly understaffed, underfunded, ill-equipped and often times, incompetent.
But how much police is really enough for Africa?
The United Nations recommends one police officer for every 450 citizens. According to its estimates, Kenya has one police officer for every 1,150 people; Tanzania has one for every 1,298; and Ghana one for every 1,200. Sadly, these ratios hold true for several other countries on the continent.
But here’s the problem:
Africa’s population – currently over 1.1 billion – is expected to double in size to 2.4 billion over the next 35 years. With competing demands to fund other critical needs like healthcare, education, food and infrastructure, it’s highly unlikely that the funding or staffing of police forces across the continent will improve with time.
And this is exactly why private security businesses are mushrooming all over the continent. As government police forces have become notorious for their low morale, corruption and slow response to crimes, more people (both individuals and companies) are hiring the services of private security firms.
However, the downside to this trend is that only a fraction of the general population can afford these private security services. This has led to, as the UN describes it, “a situation where there’s little public police protection for the majority of citizens, and much better security for the wealthy few” – which is now very common across Africa.
2) Growing security threats across the continent
Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Al-Shabbab attacks in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda. ISIS threats and attacks in North Africa, and attacks from fundamentalist groups in West and East Africa.
All of these recent (and ongoing) terrorist activities now define the face of Africa’s 21st century security challenges.
But that’s not all. There’s also a growing security threat from non-terrorism activities like petty crime, armed robbery and kidnapping.
According to South African police data, an average of 2,209 serious felonies, including 45 homicides, were committed daily in the country in the year through March 2013; and it appears very little has changed since. In Nigeria, estimates suggest that up to 600 people are kidnapped in the country every year.
In this environment of rising insecurity and inadequate public protection, private security outfits are plugging the gap and present a desirable option for people and organisations who are determined to protect the lives of their families and employees, while safeguarding their assets and investments.
Meet One of Africa’s Most Successful Female Entrepreneurs in the Private Security Business
Divine Ndhlukula worked in accounting and marketing for several years before she ventured off to start a private security service business in 1995. She saw a gap in the Zimbabwean market and made up her mind to enter the industry, despite her lack of experience in this field.
In Africa (and even across the world), private security is often considered the preserve of ex-service men (police and military) and Divine knew the odds were tipped against her but she went ahead to pursue her dream in a male-dominated industry.
With only four employees, and working out of her cottage, she grew her small business into what is now one of Zimbabwe’s biggest and most successful group of private security firms. Today, the group earns about $16 million in annual revenues, and employs over 4,000 people — more than a quarter of whom are women.
Her security businesses include SECURICO, a private guard company. There’s also a canine dog services business and an electronic security systems company. These businesses provide a wide range of services that cover: manned guarding, cash and asset transit, alarm systems, CCTV installation, rapid response units, private investigation, risk audits and security consultancy.
Divine’s companies remain one of the highest employers of women in Zimbabwe, outside the public sector.
Her entrepreneurial feats have not gone unnoticed, as she has won several prizes, awards and honours, most notably the prestigious Legatum Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship.
In the short documentary below, Divine Ndhlukula recounts her business journey, and showcases her employees in action.
3 Things To Keep In Mind Before You Start A Private Security Business In Africa
For every business opportunity we share on Smallstarter, it’s important to us that you understand the key issues and critical success factors that affect them.
For the private security business, here are the key things you should keep in mind:
1) It’s a tightly regulated industry
As you would’ve already guessed, many governments on the continent are not quite comfortable with the growing number of private security outfits. In their eyes, these businesses could be a ‘potential source’ of national security risks; hence the tight regulation.
There are two key areas of regulation. The first is foreign ownership – more countries on the continent are making it mandatory and exclusive for only citizens to own and manage private security businesses.
The second is the right to bear firearms; only a handful of countries – Angola, Uganda and South Africa – allow and license private security companies to use firearms. Private security firms in other countries have to rely on armed police teams to support their operations.
In some countries, like Nigeria, the cost of registering and licensing a private security outfit can often be wrapped in bureaucracy and high fees.
2) Competition is getting tight. Differentiate yourself
The high (and growing) demand for private security has given rise to the mushrooming of private security outfits across the continent. As a result, competition is getting tight. These days, it’s no longer enough to provide ‘tall guards in smart uniforms’.
To ensure the immediate and long term survival of a private security business in this market, you’ll have to find a way to differentiate yourself through the quality and range of services you provide; the training, character and professionalism of your guards; and the capacity and effectiveness of your operations.
3) It can be a capital-intensive business
The private security business can be capital-intensive; it all depends on the scale at which you’d like to start. If you plan to start with a small team (like Zimbabwe’s Divine Ndhlukula), it’s possible to startup with a low capital base.
But if you prefer to commence operations as a full-fledged security services company, you’ll have to dig deep into your pockets. Registration fees, training, uniforms, office space, patrol vehicles, security equipment and working capital (especially for salaries for the first few months), are some of the top financial demands.
Things could get heady at first, but as your clientele grows, the private security business can be an interesting cash flow business.
In Summary, I think it’s an interesting business opportunity
Security— like food, water and shelter – is a basic and essential human need.
However, given the growing inability of government security forces to sufficiently provide public protection in the face of rising crime and growing threats from terrorism, the private security business in Africa will continue to flourish on the continent.
With Africa’s expected population boom and the growing impact of urbanization in the future, there is strong reason to believe that the private security industry will experience significant growth over the next few decades.
Have a comment, suggestion or feedback regarding this article? I would be glad to discuss in the Comments section below.
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