Chapter One: Private and public security in Uganda, Solomon Wilson Kirunda

Private and Public Security in Uganda


Solomon Wilson Kirunda

Country Series


Monograph No 146, July 2008


Edited by Sabelo Gumedze



The term ‘private security’ refers to security services provided to clients by non-state agencies. It is a new concept in Africa. Its growth has been facilitated by the desire to reduce the burden on state agencies of protecting their citizens. Inadequate resources to equip state organs for their principal role of protecting the security of their citizens have been a major decision driver in the growth of the sector in Uganda and in Africa. Another reason has been the increase in numbers of the propertied class that need a secure environment in order to continue investing. But the privatisation of security has brought challenges to states, providers and recipients, all of which are discussed in this paper. This paper examines the private security sector in Uganda and analyses the regulation and control of this phenomenon by the state through legislation, and prevailing practices. It also assesses whether the emergence of private security has improved the security of the citizens.

An examination of the circumstances of the growth of the private security sector reveals that private security has benefited only wealthy people and businesses that can afford to pay the bills of the firms or personnel that provide the security. People in rural areas are still exposed to the security dangers and risks that prevailed before its privatisation. The term ‘private security organisations’ (PSOs) is used interchangeably with ‘private security companies’ (PSCs) because Ugandan legislation refers to private security providers as organisations rather than companies.


Uganda is a land-locked country in eastern Africa. It is bordered by Tanzania and Rwanda in the south, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the west, Sudan to the north and Kenya to the east. Uganda has a land surface of 241,139 square kilometres, and several fresh waters, including Lake Victoria, which it shares with Kenya and Tanzania and from which the River Nile starts its 6695 kilometre journey to the Mediterranean Sea. In 2002, when the last national census was carried out, its population was recorded at 24.7 million. However, records indicate that the population has since grown towards 28 million.1

Uganda’s history has been tainted by insecurity, high crime rates and corruption. This has created a security-conscious citizenry. Private security providers have emerged to meet their needs. The regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin were characterised by gross human rights violations that were perpetrated through government agencies. During these regimes, security of neither person nor property was guaranteed, but was threatened by the state and its agencies. The most notorious proponent of violations was the army.

Map of Uganda

Since then, Ugandans have lived in a security-conscious setting for fear of the security situation relapsing into what they experienced during the regimes of Obote and Amin. However, since the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government took power on 26th January 1986 – with the exception of northern and southern Uganda – the country has been relatively peaceful. Security is a sensitive area in this post-conflict country, and several institutions participate in its maintenance. These include the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), the Uganda Police, intelligence organisations such as the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, and internal and external security organisations. These agencies and organisations are governed by laws and regulations.

Uganda’s constitution was promulgated by the Constituent Assembly on 22nd October 1995 and replaced the 1967 constitution. In chapter 4 it guarantees human rights for all persons in Uganda. Although no specific provision guarantees peace and security, this protection is contained in the provisions that guarantee the right to life,2 personal liberty,3 dignity and protection from inhuman treatment.4 Article 45 provides that ‘rights, duties, declarations and guarantees relating to fundamental and other human rights and freedoms specifically mentioned shall not be regarded as excluding others not specifically mentioned’. The human rights of Ugandans are protected under the constitution, the Police Act, chapter 303 of the Laws of Uganda, and all other laws made under the constitution to maintain peace.

The government is responsible, among others, for defence, security and maintenance of law and order.5 The police force6 is charged principally with maintaining security on behalf of the government. Its functions include protection of life and property, preservation of law and order, prevention and detection of crime, and cooperation with the civilian authority and other security agencies established under the constitution.7

Article 214 of the constitution empowers parliament to make laws providing for the organisation and administration of the police force and generally regulating the force. In exercise of this authority, parliament passed the Police Act. This Act reiterates the functions of the force, with the addition of maintaining security in Uganda, enforcing the laws of the country, ensuring public safety and order, and performing any other duty assigned to it.

Uganda is party to various international instruments relating to peace and security.8

Security threats

According to UPDF spokesperson Major Felix Kulayigye,9 the main security threat that Uganda faces emanates from the Nile basin. As the water levels of the Nile recede and the desert expands, control of the basin is becoming more crucial. The Nile basin is shared by Rwanda, DRC, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Egypt. Most of these countries have been riddled with civil unrest that has been exploited to dump weapons (small arms) uncontrollably in Uganda. Uganda is believed to have large stockpiles of small arms and light weapons (SALW) (NFP 2006:4).10 Trafficking in small arms along the Ugandan, Sudanese and Kenyan borders is thriving, to the extent that at the time of writing the cost of an AK-47 assault rifle had dropped from 10 cows in 1986 to two cows. On the Uganda-Sudan border, an AK-47 assault rifle sells for 100 000 Uganda shillings (UShs) (equivalent to US$57), a pistol for UShs50 000 (US$28.7) and a bullet a mere UShs200 (US$ 0.114). Inside Sudan, an AK-47 rifle costs a few chickens (Allio & Candia 2007). The largest amount of small-arms holdings are in illicit possession, in the hands of insurgents, armed communities and criminals. This illegal proliferation is attributed to many factors, such as past political instability, civil wars and armed conflicts, and poor management and control of weapons. The biggest factor or threat to Uganda, therefore, is the inflow of SALW from conflicts in the region, as well as illicit transfers and trafficking from other regions, owing to inadequate regulation of international arms trade and transfers.

In Uganda and across the region, small arms have been used in conflict to kill thousands of people, as well as in cattle rustling and other criminal activities. Thousands more have been injured, terrorised, or forced out of their homes to live as refugees or internally displaced persons.11 For example, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group fighting against the government, used neighbouring DRC as a base to destabilise the western part of Uganda. The same applies to Somalia, which has been a source of and conduit for small arms commonly used in cattle rustling in northern Uganda. In response, the government adopted a comprehensive and coordinated approach to SALW issues. These measures are aimed at tackling the enormous volume of weapons in circulation, strengthening legislation and its enforcement, and implementing effective weapons collection and destruction programmes.

The most significant achievement has been the formation of the Uganda National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons (NFP),12 which has participated immensely in fora to promote the implementation of regional and international instruments on SALWs, including processes to foster the formulation, adoption and ratification of instruments, policies and guidelines for best practices in small-arms control and management. Its biggest contributions have been its role in the signing of the Nairobi Protocol,13 and the ratification by the Ugandan government of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, and the UN Protocol against Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition.14 Uganda also took on a representative role in designing the Agreement for the Establishment of the Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons, signed in June 2005, as a body corporate for coordination of the implementation of the Nairobi Protocol and the Nairobi Declaration.15 In addition, the NFP mandate, deriving from a number of protocols, programmes and declarations on SALWs to which Uganda is a party, stretches to national-level implementation of the UN Program of Action,16 the UN Protocol, the Bamako Declaration,17 the Nairobi Declaration and the Nairobi Protocol.

According to a UPDF spokesperson, the Aids scourge is viewed as a major threat to the country’s security because it is wiping out the human resource personnel of the security forces. But this problem is being addressed through all means possible. Though he was wary of revealing what are perceived as security threats, he claimed that all the problems are being addressed through specially designed programmes. The structural changes that have been effected in the forces have been aimed at addressing prevailing problems or threats.

Security threats to the country are also posed by the insurgent groups that have destabilised certain areas. These include the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, the ADF in the Rwenzori mountains,18 and the highly controversial People’s Redemption Army (PRA), whose base is in the DRC but has never attacked in Uganda.

Uganda has a police force of about 19 000 officers. This number is inadequate to address the security problems of a population of about 28 million. Coupled with the under-facilitation of the police force, this inadequacy has been the biggest cause of the soaring numbers of PSOs.

Extent of PSCs and PMCs

Uganda has 58 registered PSCs.19 Employees of these PSCs, as registered with the Uganda Private Security Organisations Association (UPSA), total about 17 000.20 UPSA was formed in 2001 to create a unified voice and set standards for private security providers. These standards were supposed to be met before a PSC was accorded membership status. They include a minimum payment scale for employees at not less than UShs85 000 (equivalent to US$48), and an annual monthly subscription. UPSA and its affiliates are members of the Federation of Uganda Employers.

UPSA, its members and their employees are unionised and belong to the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU-Uganda). ATGWU is intended mainly to be a common voice advocating for the welfare of employees of the PSOs. But when one looks at the paltry sums that employees earn, the union is doing little to benefit its members, other than siphon off annual subscriptions. An attempt by UPSA to regulate the minimum pay among PSCs caused a rift between the founders and the members who were paying less than the set minimum. It was viewed as interference in the internal running of the PSCs. They therefore broke away from USPA to form a rival association which believed in having a collective voice without interference with the internal running of the member entities.

Most PSOs in Uganda are parent companies, save for Securicor Grey, which is a subsidiary of a South African company, and the Armour Group. Its presence in Uganda is unique, because it has never been registered, but operates under the umbrella of Alarm Protection Services (APS). This rather ambiguous relationship was forged as a way of tapping into the market provided by British and American embassies, which preferred a company that followed the US defence system (USDS), especially after the terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In this light, the Armour Group, which works in Britain, provided APS with the necessary ingredients to give it a bidding advantage over other PSOs.

Most PSOs operate in the central part of the country, because that is the business hub, and the operating costs are too high elsewhere. A PSO that ventures upcountry may not be able to find paying clients. PSCs that have branches outside Uganda are Ultimate Security, KK Security and Security Group, which operate in the whole of East Africa. Tight Security, another Ugandan PSC, ventured into the private security business in the New Sudan, but despite bidding successfully, the formalisation process was tedious, and let them down. They have not given up their dream of covering entire East Africa.21

According to Ugandan law, a private security provider must register as a company with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act.22 This registration is done on the recommendation of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), after an applicant has satisfied all the procedures for registering a PSO. Only after the production of a certified copy of the articles and memorandum of association may the IGP issue the appropriate operator’s licence.

There are certain procedures for all PSOs before they are registered or their licences are renewed each year. First, a security company must be vetted and approved by the district security committee: the local committee concerned with security matters in the area (district). All applications for registration and licensing are made to the IGP through district police commanders (DPCs). The DPC looks at the shareholders, the name to be registered, type of organisation, intended use of firearms and other security equipment, and decides whether the applicant possesses adequate storage facilities for the firearms, as listed in the Second Schedule to the Regulations. If the application conforms with these requirements, the DPC instructs the district special branch officer and the Criminal Investigations Department to scrutinise the backgrounds of the directors for criminal records, the capitalisation of the company, criminal records of guards employed by the company, the welfare of the guards, and complaints from guards. The district security committee physically verifies and audits the applicant’s logistics, guns, and storage. If the committee is satisfied, registration is recommended to the IGP. All the operations of PSOs are revisited every year before their licences are renewed. However, these regulations are being reviewed. It has been proposed that a provision be inserted to allow for a National Registration and Licensing Committee, which would be responsible for registration, licensing, supervision and control of PSOs. This review will usher in the Police (Control of Private Security Organisations) Regulations.

Reasons for the development of the private security industry

The first PSO in Uganda was Security 2000, which began operations in 1988. At the time, it was not so formidable. Armour Group then came in strongly in 1993, but it was unable to register. The majority shareholders were foreigners and it did not fulfil the requirements of the Uganda Investment Authority. It then formed a relationship with APS which was duly registered under the laws of Uganda. International Investigators and Detectives (Interid) and Group 4 then emerged in 1994, Saracen in 1995, and Tight Security in 1998. For the first ten years after the first PSO was registered, the country had only five PSOs. That number has risen to 54 registered companies.

With the liberalisation of Uganda’s economy in the 1990s, a lot of private property was acquired by individuals and private organisations. Since then, many people have become involved in economic activities. Crime increased in such an environment, and the need to protect lives and property intensified. Fear of crime has driven the demand for private security services (Gounev 2006). Analysis has proved that companies using the services of PSCs have a lesser chance of being victims of burglary.23 The police/population ratio remains very low and stands at one police officer per 1 473 people. This is below the international ratio, which is1:400.

With such a ratio, coupled with inadequate resources in the police force, cries of police inefficiency and ineffectiveness were rife, especially from property owners. It was therefore deemed necessary to relinquish some police functions to private security organisations as one way of addressing the problem (Sakira 2004). According to Sakira (2004:5), this step was influenced by the paradigm of new managerialism, which started in America in the 1980s. He argues that managerialism, as opposed to traditional public administration, inter alia prescribes de-monopolising the delivery of goods and services by a single bureaucracy as one of the ways of ensuring efficient provision of goods and services to the public. Delivery by bureaucracy is not the only way to provide goods and services by government. Government can operate indirectly, instead of being the direct provider. Flexible management systems pioneered by the private sector are being adopted by governments (Owen 1994).

The concept of new managerialism is a product of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and replacing all previous ethical beliefs. To the neo-liberalists it is not sufficient that there is a market: there must be nothing which is not market.24

Community policing, which came to prominence in Uganda in the 1990s, is part of the new managerialist appeal for governments not to be the direct providers of certain services. Communities are encouraged to secure themselves by introducing means such as neighbourhood watch, target hardening, target removal and community patrols. Where communities are unable to handle their security by these means, they are encouraged to seek the services of PSOs. In the Ugandan example, the notion of reducing the workload of the police force gave rise to the soaring numbers of PSOs.

Uganda is densely populated, which increases the demand for security. State organs are not wholly sufficient to ensure this, and are therefore complemented by private security. This is provided by private organs, which include Saracen, Interid, and Securicor. The minister for internal affairs, in exercising the authority under section 74(1)(p) of the Police Act, may, inter alia, in consultation with the police authority, make regulations for the control of PSOs.

These regulations are supposed to cover

The Control of Private Security Organisations Regulations, 1997, was promulgated in furtherance of that power. The definition of a PSO includes any organisation that undertakes private investigation of facts or character of a person or one which performs services of watching, guarding or patrolling for the purpose of providing protection against crime, but does not include the Ugandan Police Force, Prison Service or Armed Forces.25 Such an organisation, however, ought to be registered under the Companies’ Act.26 Under section 73(3) of the act, the authority to determine whether an organisation constitutes a PSO lies with the minister for internal affairs.27

Gounev (2006:122) states that hiring a private guard in Uganda makes sound business sense for many companies, because it is relatively inexpensive. It is certainly cheaper than hiring military, police or law enforcement personnel. Furthermore, hiring a guard has become more of an ‘industry standard’, particularly for retail and wholesale enterprises, since business owners remain cautious, pointing to reputation and trust as the two key criteria in selecting a PSC, instead of quality or price.

PSOs work closely with the national police force. Ugandan law envisages that they should complement one another in the protection of life and property. Regulation 12 provides that

The constitutional responsibility for life and property is vested in the Uganda police force under the command of the IGP and therefore all private security organisations shall be deployed as part of a complementary force to assist the national police force in protecting life and property.

The police force has moved to ensure that the regulation is implemented. According to the police chief

The Police have initiated a community policing partnership with private security organisations (PSOs) that will see the two teaming up in patrols in a bid to make the city more secure. The partnership will see both the policemen and private security guards carry out joint motorised patrols aboard PSO patrol trucks. Kampala Police Chief … lauded the partnership, describing it as another step in community policing. Under the arrangement, he said, the PSOs will allow on board two policemen who will carry out patrols with PSO personnel. ‘It is a partnership with PSOs in policing the areas they work in, to make the city more secure. It’s a new means of community policing’… The partnership, he said, was being piloted with one security firm, KK security, in areas under Jinja Road and Kireka police stations ... ‘A final meeting is slated for Saturday to get others on board and see how to expand the partnership other areas,’ he said. The PSOs, he said, will provide and fuel the vehicles. KK security, he said, had fitted radio equipment in the police radio room (Candia 2006).

The fruits of this new initiative have yet to be seen. However, the police are optimistic that it will greatly benefit their principal role of combating crime. All private security activities must take place with due and full respect of the regulations, and practical cooperation arrangements with national authorities, in particular with police forces.28 In the framework of the strictest respect for the competence of each of the parties, it is therefore the responsibility of each PSC and the employees concerned to develop good communication and cooperation that is open and constructive with the police forces. This relationship is monitored by the IGP to ensure the aim of complementing one another. This has been well received on the grounds that the security providers will now be able to cover wider ground. If the review of the regulations is approved, the National Registration and Licensing Committee will share responsibility for monitoring the performance of the partnership.

Several concerns emerge in relation of the private security industry. They stem mainly from regulatory inadequacy. The regulations are not comprehensive enough to cover all angles and answer all the questions in a citizen’s mind. For example, PSOs do not have protection against political interference. There is a danger in a growing democracy such as Uganda that PSOs will be compromised by government agencies. In addition, to set the regulations, the current policy is to empower the minister, who delegates his or her powers to the IGP. This conduit will threaten the rationality and independence of the PSOs because they either please the IGP or risk not having their operational licences renewed. However, this monopoly of authority will be remedied once the Police (Control of Private Security Organisations) Regulations are passed into law.

The law is also inadequate where the conduct of security personnel is concerned (Sakira 2004:101). The PSO regulations focus on control of the private security operators (the companies) and less on the security officers (the employees) who are the principal players. In other words, the law is not clear on what security officers should/should not do when exercising their duties, apart from ensuring that their employees strictly observe human rights.29

PSOs complement the police, but it is not clear whether they have the same powers and rights, such as search, investigations, interviewing witnesses, seizing property as exhibits, detention of suspect and use of force when necessary. This uncertainty cripples the work of the PSOs. Citizens may treat operatives who are trying to carry out these activities with ridicule.

Services provided by PSCs

PSCs are allowed to carry out certain services: to undertake private investigations of facts or of the character of a person; and watch, guard, escort, and patrol to provide protection against crime.30 Many PSCs carry out these latter functions. By law PSCs are also required to register as limited liability companies. At registration they provide (in the articles and memorandums of associations) a list of activities that they intend to carry out legally. Some may never perform some of these functions.31 For example, Askar Security Services is registered to import security devices, but has delved into recruiting and sending people to Iraq.

In Uganda no PSC has the sole practice of handling cash in transit.32 Some PSCs specialise in this (and render other services as well). These include Securicor and Security Tight. Their major challenge is the participation of their employees, the operational personnel, in stealing the clients’ money. This involves diverting vehicles and stealing most cash in transit. For instance, private security guards working for Securicor Grey made off with UShs1.2 billion (equivalent to US$690 million) belonging to Stanbic Bank, which was being transported from Mbale to Kotido, of which only USh900 million (US$517 000) was recovered. In another instance, a bullion van transporting UShs700 million (US$402 000) from Mbale to Iganga was diverted and the money was also stolen by guards working for Securicor Grey. In all these robberies the bullion vans were later abandoned in case they could be tracked.

PSC personnel in Uganda, particularly those involved in escorting and guarding services, can easily be identified because they are required by law to wear uniform.33 PSC vehicles are also easily identifiable because their names, colours and logos are inscribed on them. Most cash-in-transit vehicles are tracked from headquarters or use a tracking company.

PSCs are employed by banks to guard them day and night, especially at the entrances. They are used by forex bureaux (bureaux de change) in Kampala. Every forex bureau has a PSC operative at its entrance, especially during the day. PSCs are employed by national governmental organisations to guard their gates day and night, by some farmers in vanilla-growing areas to guard their vines,34 and by some secondary and primary schools to guard at the gates. Many homes in smart city areas such as Muyenga, Kololo, Ntinda and Buziga are guarded by PSCs. PSCs are especially employed to provide security to people and their homes, properties and businesses and these are the contracts that are most sought after.35

The government does not employ PSCs in the same way that private individuals or businesses do.36 However, government works hand in hand with PSCs to protect life and property.

Some private security companies use Security Group; others involved in cash-in-transit activities use satellite tracking systems;37 and some use modern surveillance equipments. Security Group operates in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In Uganda it offers services such as:

This is in line with the law in Uganda, which states that:

A PSO may on application be authorised to use the following categories of security equipment for which the relevant operators shall first be obtained

(i)   …
(ii)  approved electronic alarms and surveillance equipment
(iii)  approved defensive tools

The people and leaders in some parts of Uganda consider that the level of crime, especially robberies and burglaries, has increased because of the presence of PSCs. They believe that PSC personnel are involved in armed criminal activities. According to New Vision

The crime rate in Kampala is worrying. This is especially so when it involves members of the security meant to protect the public. Worse still, it involves mostly personnel from private security organisations. Private security companies should be properly vetted before being licensed to operate in the country. Many families guarded by some security firms have to top up the guards’ pay since the companies pay them peanuts while they rake in windfall. This is dangerous because it is risky to entrust a hungry guard with a gun (Opoloti 2006).

These criminal activities include bank robberies (New Vision 2007), murder (a 20-year-old man was allegedly shot dead by a private security guard attached to Detail Security Service) (New Vision 2007), and theft. The police are concerned about the rate at which the PSCs purportedly become involved in criminal activities. It was reported in the media that:

The police are to meet officials from private security organisations, during which measures of ensuring the latter are not sources of insecurity will be devised. Inspector General of Police … said, ‘We want to establish a forum in which we can discuss security matters.’ This follows an increase in crimes suspected [of being] perpetrated by security guards (New Vision 2006).

For example, in one incident:

The Police arrested four private security guards for allegedly breaking into a church store in Kireka, a city suburb, and making away with 39 bales of bed sheets worth shillings 17m. Three of the suspects are attached to Securex Security, while one belongs to Saracen, the Police said (New Vision 2006).38

PSCs have allegedly erected illegal roadblocks and extorted money from people. It was reported that:

Two security guards suspected of erecting an illegal roadblock at Busega, a city suburb, have been arrested. George Okot and Robert Katase of Alert Guards were arrested on Tuesday night as they extorted money from passengers, the police assistant spokesman … said. Meanwhile the police are to streamline the operations of all private security firms (New Vision 2006).

The guards were charged and the case is pending judgment. But apart from those isolated instances, the level of crime is believed to be lower in areas where PSCs operate.39

Privatisation of security and human rights

Women’s rights are provided for under article 33 of the 1995 constitution and in other pieces of legislation.40 This provision states that women must accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men.41 The state must provide facilities and opportunities to enhance the welfare of women so that they can realise their full potential and advancement.42 The state has a duty to protect women and their rights, taking into account their unique status and natural maternal functions in society.43 The constitution also provides that women should have the right to equal treatment with men, and that must include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.44 Women have the right to affirmative action to redress the imbalances created by history, tradition and custom.45 Laws, cultures, customs and traditions that are against the dignity, welfare or interests of women are prohibited.46 Uganda’s regional and international human rights obligations do not permit discrimination against women in employment, and the country has ratified regional and international human rights obligations that prohibit such discrimination47 and various International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.48

Children’s rights are protected under the constitution and the Children’s Act, 1996. The constitution provides that, subject to the laws enacted in their best interest, children have the right to know and be cared for by their parents or those entitled by law to bring them up.49 A child is entitled to basic education, which is the responsibility of the state and the parents of the child.50 No child must be deprived by any person of medical treatment, education or any other social or economic benefit by reason of religious or other beliefs.51 Children are entitled to be protected from social or economic exploitation and not be employed in or required to perform work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education or to be harmful to their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.52 For the purposes of employment a child is defined as a person under the age of sixteen years,53 otherwise a child is a person under the age of eighteen.54 A child offender who is kept in lawful custody or detention must be kept separately from adult offenders.55 PSCs in Uganda employ women,56 but not children, because the law prohibits this.

There are reports in the media that PSCs have been involved in human rights violations, especially the right to life, by killing innocent people or crime suspects, but there are no reports of women’s and children’s rights violations57 in the country or beyond its borders.

All PSOs must ensure strict observance of human rights by their employees.58 Even those operating in conflict areas have to train their employees to observe human rights,59 although there have been no reports of violations.

The government does not outsource its security/military services,60 but it does employ PSOs on a small scale, for example to man entry points.

Advantages and disadvantages of the private security industry

The main advantage of the privatisation of security is that investment has boomed because investors are sure of the safety of their investments, owing to the emergence of cheap security companies.

The second concerns revenue generation for PSC employees and the state. Employees have been able to earn income and transform families that would otherwise have suffered. The state has generated revenue through taxes that the PSCs remit as service providers and those of their employees, levies on the importation of firearms (which are higher than those of other imports) and payments on applications for licences. These fees are stipulated in the first schedule of the regulations.61

PSCs in Uganda can now export security services. The main player is Askar Security Services, which secured a contract to provide personnel for guarding and escort in Iraq. This is double-edged because the personnel earn good sums of money which greatly improves their livelihood. Service men sent to Iraq earn US$1 000 per month. As a result, Ugandan citizens are competing to go there, despite the security risks involved.

The absence of security of investment was a major threat to the economy because investors were afraid to expand their ventures because of possible banditry and other associated evils. However, with the emergency of PSOs, where the citizens pay for their own security, their efforts are now concentrated on expanding their investments and acquisitions.

The main disadvantage is that owing to the fast emergence of PSCs, many of the guns in circulation have been used to perpetrate crime or have been lent to criminals.

Second, despite there being a screening mechanism, ex-servicemen have found their way into PSCs as employees and administrators. They know the security set-up of the country or area where they operated in the security forces, and the response time. They have used this information to engineer robberies.

Third, military and police forces have abdicated responsibility for security of the state and its citizens in favour of profit when their employer utilises private companies. The forces have simply sat back and relaxed waiting for complaints from wealthy people who can afford to ‘facilitate’ them. There is also some doubt as to the effectiveness of private companies in providing long-term stability in the wake of internal conflict.

Regulatory framework

Effective regulation of PMCs and PSCs requires an interlocking framework of national, regional and international control mechanisms. There is consensus that existing laws at international level are insufficient, and national laws are lacking in many countries, creating a legal grey zone (Bryden 2006). PSCs are regulated under the Police Act, 1994, and the Control of Private Security Organisations Regulations, 1997. Under section 73(1)(a) and section 74(1)(p) the Police Act empowers the minister for internal affairs to make regulations for the control of PSOs. The regulations control the establishment and operations of PSCs, but apply only to PSCs registered in Uganda.62 The Act and the regulations are implemented by the police who have designated a commissioner of police as overseer. Police activities are overseen by the minister for internal affairs.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is reviewing the framework to address gaps and inconsistencies. A National Registration and Licensing Committee has been proposed to handle the registration, licensing, supervision and control of PSOs. The regulation of PSOs is largely effective, because the laws set the minimum criteria for operating a PSO, establish mechanisms for controlling the sector, and provide for review and cancellation of licences for PSCs that do not meet the legal requirements.

Police involvement in the drafting and implementation of laws regulating PSCs is pivotal to the operation of PSCs in Uganda, because of their long experience in providing security services.


A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict and

is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party.63

In article 1, the Mercenary Convention defines a ‘mercenary’ as anyone who, not being a national of the state against which his actions are directed, is employed, enrols or links himself willingly to a person, group or organization whose aim is:

a. to overthrow by force of arms or by any other means the government of that member state of the Organization of African Unity

b. to undermine the independence, territorial integrity or normal working of the institutions of the said state

c. to block by any means the activities of any liberation movement recognized by the Organization of African Unity

In light of these definitions there has not been any mercenary activity in Uganda in recent times.64 Nor are there mercenary activities by Ugandans outside its borders. Uganda signed the convention,65 but has not ratified it. Nevertheless, under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, it may not carry out activities that contradict the purpose and spirit of the treaty. Uganda does not have any specific legislation on mercenaries.

Use of firearms and uniforms by PSCs

Schedule III of the regulations allow PSCs to use authorised firearms,66 mainly automatic and single shot guns. (See appendix A.)

Under regulation 16, the provisions in the regulations apply in conformity with those of the Firearms Act,67 which require that whoever desires to possess a firearm must have a certificate.68 The IGP may recommend a private security company to the minister69 for the authority to import specified quantities and types of arms and ammunitions by the IGP.70 However, the US has imposed control on arms importation in the Great Lakes Region. Wiring money to procure arms has become more complex since it has to go through New York, which then halts the process, pending investigation by the CIA.

An employee of a PSO may use authorised firearms in certain circumstances:71

The regulations do not require PSOs to conceal their weapons. But firearms registers must be maintained by every armed PSO, and all movements of firearms should be recorded and accounted for.73 Every PSO must submit monthly returns and brief accounts of the arms and ammunitions in its possession to the IGP.74
An application to purchase the scheduled arms and ammunition in and outside Uganda is subject to the existence of an approved operator’s licence issued by the IGP.75 Employees of PSCs are not allowed to carry firearms off duty.76 They store them at their employer’s premises, which must be well secured. According to the licence application,77 individuals who wish to operate a PSC in Uganda must declare that they will construct an appropriate storage for firearms or any explosive materials, subject to approval by the IGP. If such an individual is not willing to do so, he or she must give reasons. The Firearms Act also requires anybody who is authorised to own a gun to have adequate and safe storage for it.78 This implicitly imposes an obligation on PSCs to have safe storage for arms that are not being used. The IGP can inspect the armoury, arms and ammunitions in possession of a PSO quarterly. He or she is also mandated to ensure that all arms being used are licensed in conformity with the Firearms Act.79

The regulations require arms and ammunitions to be kept in proper custody.80 Employees who are detailed to use arms cannot resort to the use of the firearms in order to negotiate for any welfare affecting their terms and conditions of service81 and must follow the proper channels for settling industrial disputes.82

Guard and escort service employees must wear uniform while on duty.83 These uniforms must be adequately described and notified to the public through the official Gazette and in at least one daily newspaper.84 No uniform, dress or parts belonging to a PSC may be the same in style, colour and texture of the government security forces or another PSC.85 Distinct colours of uniforms ensure that personnel are easily identifiable. This requirement is also viewed as a way of preventing errant individuals from claiming that they belong to a given PSO.

Governance, professionalism and training of PSC employees

The regulations do not require PSCs to have management structures, but in practice they must have ‘a workable structure for management and supervision’.86 Copies of their governing structure have to be submitted to the IGP. This structure will depend on the functions the PSC has registered to carry out.87

It is difficult to determine whether the operations of PSCs in Uganda are transparent. Some offices were not willing to give information about their operations, but referred the researcher to the Office of the IGP at Police Headquarters (Kibuli, Kampala). However, some PSC officials answered readily. Many preferred to remain anonymous. Getting information about PSC operations and activities from the Office of the IGP is a lengthy process which requires an introductory letter explaining why the research is being carried out.

Every PSC must submit monthly returns and brief accounts of the arms and ammunitions in its possession to the IGP,88 as well as quarterly returns of personnel89 and reports of operations.90

The minimum requirements for employees are not provided for in the law, but in practice they must have ordinary level education, should not be under the age of 18, and must be healthy and fit to carry out the tasks assigned to them.91 It is within the discretion of a PSC to determine whether particular employees should have a certain level of education.92

It appears that the government cannot allow employees of PSCs to receive military training before or during their employment. In fact, PSCs in Uganda have been warned against employing former military or police officers without the approval of the police:

Police chief … has directed private security organisations to stop recruiting ex-servicemen without Police approval on their service record. ‘Selection and proper training are vital aspects for any security organisation. We have noted that most ex-servicemen, especially those with bad criminal records, end up in these organisations.’ … Police would compile a list of all ex-servicemen in the force … the list would bear their criminal records … [and] it would be available to private security organisations. [He added that] the Police Force would provide security organisations with a training syllabus, adding that the syllabus would require security guards to undertake Police training. ‘Before a guard is allowed to use a firearm, he or she must be certified by the Police.’ … security organisations who fail to comply with the new standards would be closed … [T]he organisations were only allowed to purchase arms from the Police … [and] those that possessed illegally purchased firearms must declare them to the police (New Vision 2003).

The government controls the training of employees of the PSCs. The IGP sets standards of performance to ensure that PSOs perform their duties properly and that there is proper and regular training of all personnel.93 Moreover, PSCs that are licensed to use firearms must ensure that all personnel who are eligible to use them are properly and regularly trained in their use.94 The IGP is again responsible for the standardisation of these training procedures.95 In addition, from time to time the IGP may issue standard instructions regarding firearms and any other necessary training,96 although no standardised procedures have yet been issued by the IGP.

PSCs train their employees to apply minimum force, unless the circumstances demand otherwise.97 Some PSCs, such as Security Group, train their employees in first aid, but only employees on company vehicles take first aid kits on duty.98 The PSCs are aware of the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force by the Law Enforcement Officials, and their training manuals contain principles from both instruments.99

To ensure that the requirements for governance, professionalism and training are adhered to, PSCs must file reports to the IGP detailing their operations, their personnel, and the arms and ammunitions in their possession. Full particulars and fingerprints of the operational personnel of every PSC must be submitted to the IGP within two weeks of recruitment or appointment to avoid employing people with criminal records.100

Operational control is another way in which government ensures that these requirements are adhered to. The IGP must set standards of performance and ensure:

The IGP issues annual performance certificates which are categorised as Exemplary; Very good; Good; Satisfactory; and Poor.102

A PSC may be deregistered by the Registrar of Companies if the IGP believes that the organisation is operating below acceptable standards, is a security risk to the state, or the regulations have been violated or not complied with.103 The director of operations of Uganda Police Force, Francis Rwego, has acknowledged that he has received complaints: ‘We get many complaints about thefts carried out by some guards working with private security firms. If we identify any firm that breaches their contract, we shall revoke their licences’ (Candia 2004). The regulations, without prejudice to the operator’s right to reapply, mandate the IGP to cancel an operator’s (PSC) licence at any time, if the regulations and laws have not been complied with.104 The licences of PSCs have been cancelled and the organisations ordered to close shop:

The Police have closed five private security organisations (PSOs) over failure to adhere to stipulated standards. Commissioner of Police in charge of private security … said that the firms included Chi Guards, Arere Security and Elephant Guards in Mbale. Others are Tororo Kalin Guards and Simba Cobra and Tough, both in Tororo … ‘Some have been doing a commendable job, whereas others have fallen by the wayside’ ... Meanwhile, the Police at the weekend met with 68 managers of PSOs to streamline their activities. ‘We wanted to review their weakness to find a way to support them into the future,’ He said that the recruitment process in most of the firms was lacking (New Vision 2005).

In addition, the police closed six PSCs for failure to adhere to operational standards:

The police have stopped six private security firms from operating. This follows their failure to meet the required operation standards. The directive was issued by the Inspector General of Police … The firms include Hima Cement (1994), an in-house security organisation, Kampala Bureau of Investigations, Private Investigation Bureau, Excel Security Uganda Ltd, Popular guards and Security Services Ltd, and Universal Security Services Ltd. The firms’ demise was cemented with letters to their managers after a meeting held last month. The assistant commissioner of police in charge private security and firearms control … said, ‘They should not purport to be security organisations. This is to make sure that firms do not hoodwink the public.’ Most of them either lacked the necessary equipment or logistics in addition to the financial base, which are some of the basic requirements that all private security firms must meet.105

Organisations must renew their operation licences annually:

An operator’s licence shall be renewed annually on application, subject to proven satisfactory performance by the applicant for the previous year, and proof of payment of appropriate fees for the category of security services for which a renewal of licence is sought.106

This requirement is probably the government’s lynchpin in the use of PSCs in its own political battles. The impartiality of the PSCs is threatened because fear of not being able to renew their licences affects their bargaining power against government. The government has ensured that this provision is adhered to by the PSOs:

The Police have arrested 17 security guards working with Rhino security Group for operating without legal consent. A source said the 17 were arrested on the orders of the Inspector General of Police … The Police said the city firm, which was sold to another group of directors, was supposed to reregister with the commissioner in charge of private security (New Vision 2006).

When the IGP finds that a particular PSC has failed to live up to the expected standard, he has the power to stop it until it is in position to do so.107

Exporting security and military assistance

The principal pieces of legislation regulating the exportation of security and military assistance are the constitution and the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) Act.108 Article 210(d) of the constitution mandates parliament to make laws regulating the UPDF, and in particular, to provide for the deployment of troops outside Uganda.

According to the Act, if troops are deployed outside Uganda under a multilateral or bilateral arrangement with other countries, the minister must enter into a statute of forces agreement with the country seeking military assistance or the umbrella organisation under which assistance is being sent,109 for example the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), or the AU. The agreement must stipulate the terms and conditions, operations and withdrawal strategy, among others. The Act differentiates between peace keeping and peace enforcement.110 Under peace keeping, the government has to seek parliamentary approval before any deployment is made.111 Because of this, there is an implied requirement to abide by article 53 of the UN Charter before troops are sent abroad, which states that the Security Council, where appropriate, will utilise such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority.

Before any regional arrangement or agency invokes enforcement action, it must have the mandate/permission of the Security Council unless it is reacting to an enemy state. The most recent development in Uganda has been the deployment to Somalia under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to help the transitional federal government to restore peace and stability.

For Uganda, however, the intention is to neutralise the supply of illegal arms from the Horn to the Karamajong (who occupy the north-eastern part of Uganda) that terrorise the north-eastern and eastern parts of the country through cattle rustling. The UPDF stresses that their major area of operation is Mogadishu. A total of 155 MPs voted112 to support the mission, which is the first external deployment to be approved by the parliament (Daily Monitor 2007). This vote excluded members of the opposition who walked out in protest over the continued deterioration of the rule of the l

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