Discussing Security with Annette Kimitei of Senaca, The Fastest-Growing Security Company in East Africa

Annette Kimitei shares her assessment of the security services industry in East Africa and presents Senaca, the fastest-growing security company in the region. The company operates in Kenya and Uganda and focuses on 4 main areas: man-guarding solutions, security technology, risk management solutions and K-9 services or the dog section.

Interview with Annette Kimitei, Managing Director of Senaca East Africa

Annette Kimitei, Managing Director of Senaca East Africa

Could you give us an overview of Senaca East Africa and explain what makes you different?

Senaca East Africa is a private security company that operates in Kenya and Uganda. We offer four key services. The first one is man-guarding solutions which is everything from security officers, dog handlers, CCTV operators, supervisors, project managers of man-guarding, etc. We also offer security technology. Technology is very wide from CCTV cameras to intruder alarm solutions, all through metal detectors and the like. We also offer risk management solutions such as background checks, due diligence of individuals and companies in business, investigations overt and covert, VIP protections, risk assessment and the like. And then we offer our K-9 services, which is most popularly known as the dog section. But what’s unique about our dog section is that we not only offer what you call the patrol dog, we also offer very unique explosives and narcotics detection dogs through our partnership with a company in Europe.

Senaca’s first competitive advantage is that we are 19 years old, with experience in private security across East Africa. That experience has given us an opportunity to learn this landscape, but at the same time, we are still young enough to be able to be adaptive to the changing needs of both our clients as well as the threats that come in security.

We also offer very tailored security solutions. For example, if you come to our aviation sector, you will find the products and services that are tailored to aviation are completely different from what you will find in manufacturing, hospitality security or residential security.

We are also very keen on technology. We know that there has been a slow adoption of technology in Kenya, but we have set ourselves as a market leader when it comes to technology, and we are proud to have been awarded by the International Outstanding Security Performance Awards (OSPA’s) as the leading security systems integrator in the country.

We also have international partnerships in very key areas. When it comes to issues of counterterrorism, we have partnered not only with Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Center, but also with partners in Europe. When it comes to dogs, we have partners in Europe and Israel. So, our international partnerships offer the best solutions to our customers. Our tagline is “Global Best Practice Delivered Locally”.

Senaca is a certified blue company. With the corruption challenges we have across Africa, and particularly in Kenya, a certified blue company is a business that stands for no corruption. It is an end-to-end assessment and commitment as a company when it comes to employment and all the way to dealing with our customers and suppliers.

We are also diversity champions in the security sector. One of the awards we have won is leading gender diversity in security. For example, when it comes to the representation of women in security, in 2016 we realized that we had only 5% women employed in our company and by last year, despite 2020 being a very tough COVID year, we actually finished the year with 24% of our board and management being women and 18% in the field at guard posts. So, for a male-dominated sector, I think we are doing well. We definitely have a lot of room for improvement.

Finally, Senaca has received many awards over the last three years. We have been awarded 16 times as a market leader and fastest growing security company in East Africa. We have also been awarded as an outstanding security contracts company, best manned security company of the year, and best security training provider, amongst many others. That is very important for us.

What are the trends in the security services industry in East Africa?

Private security is one of the largest employers in the business sector. It is estimated to employ between 700,000 and 1.2 million people in Kenya alone. It has also been rated one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.

Kenya is a growing economy; security is an essential service and is very critical to the success of many organizations. The challenge is that Kenya is in the process of moving from a traditional security sector, which is very heavily invested in people, to advancing in technology, as well as risk management solutions.

Over the recent past, there have seen increased robberies and cybersecurity attacks. Kenya has unfortunately also encountered a number of terrorist attacks. During COVID, there has been an escalation in homicides, suicides, and gender-based violence. Security concerns are increasing in number and are changing in scope, so the more prepared an organization is to offer solutions to the public and business, the better.

What are some of the technologies you are utilizing?

We use CCTV solutions, intruder alarms, electric fences, biometric solutions, walk-through metal detectors, X-ray luggage cameras and visitor management solutions. There is a whole variety of digital management solutions. There is also security systems integration to make all solutions user-friendly. One of the international awards that Senaca won as the Outstanding Systems Integrator in 2020.

COVID has impacted a lot of economies. Is that the case with your business?

In 2020, we established the association of Women in Safety Excellence (WISE). Our intention is to enable women to get into the security sector and give them the means to grow.

During the pandemic, we have been at the forefront despite the fact that most businesses have been closing. Security is an essential service, and the government has supported that, by enabling security companies to move beyond lockdowns and curfew hours. That was really significant for us.

Another thing is the integration of safety and health. There is an assumption that there is no relationship, or a distant relationship, between safety, health and security. The pandemic has shown that it is hard to tell where one begins and another ends. Safety is therefore a key concern in security discussions.

Training delivery is now very important. We have partnered with a company in Europe to start online training for not only our staff, but also our clients, so that they are certified and ready to work. COVID has limited the amount of physical distancing between people and the work of security officers is to search bags, check identification and search vehicles. We needed to limit physical interaction, so the adoption of technology has helped us. Our technical business doubled its revenue in 2020 and this was because there was a faster adaption to technology. Because more people were at home, they wanted alarm intruder solutions and mobile response services for alarms.

COVID has reminded us that contingency planning is necessary. Security has been forced to change to meet the new challenges. It must be able to develop proactive business solutions to ensure that there is always a continuity plan with security at the center of it if another pandemic hits. COVID has shown us that as a company, the traditional methods of security are not going to work in the future. That is why we are focused on technology, cybersecurity, and risk management.

The pandemic has come to a country and a continent with an unemployment crisis, particularly youth unemployment. Security employs many young people, but there have been lots of job losses. In Africa, people often go ‘up country,’ where it is cheaper to live, but with lockdowns and job losses they cannot do that. We have also had a cashflow challenge. Most businesses were closed in 2020 and others were barely operating. They were struggling with payments, but in 2021 that has improved.

Because of the lack of jobs and the need to be able to provide, crime levels have spiked. There have been more petty thefts, armed robberies, online fraud and gender-based violence in Kenya than ever before. Cyberattacks have increased by 37% and this has posed challenges to us and our customers. As a nation, we are worried about the threat of terrorism. And as a nation, we are preparing for elections in 2022. Historically, we have had challenges with elections, so amidst the economy, COVID, and all the security challenges, there is also a need to have election preparedness plans in advance.

Are there any external challenges that affect the business, and industry, as a whole?

The challenges have also presented opportunities for technology and risk management because people now want to conduct risk assessment, background checks and due diligence for added security.

As a security industry, we have to address issues such as educating our staff on COVID-19, so we are training our security officers, managers and supervisors. Access to vaccines has been a problem in Africa. Security officers are on the frontline and if they are not vaccinated, they pose a risk to themselves, their families, and clients. But in 2021, accessibility to COVID vaccines has started to get better.

Senaca being in Uganda as well, do you have any plans to expand?

Senaca East Africa has a growth and expansion plan. In the next ten years we plan to expand into five other African countries. In the next two years we plan to offer services in Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. We plan to employ 10,000 more staff and become market leaders in technology, innovation, and risk management. They have peaked during 2020 and 2021 and we see a lot of potential in those areas. However, expansion is dependent upon market conditions. It is necessary to make sure a market is conducive to our business, and that there is demand for the services we can offer.

As a woman running the business, what are the things that drive you?

My background is in HR. I did not grow up wanting to be in security, but the minute I got into this sector I saw many opportunities. An example is a private security training academy that we started up. We saw a very big need to recruit, vet and train security officers. The academy is not only for Senaca, but it is open to other businesses. Individuals who want to hire their own internal security and security companies that want to have their security officers trained come to us.

The security industry in general is male dominated. For a long time, I used to be the only woman at board meetings, and I challenged myself to make sure that in the future I am not the only woman, or the only diversity in the room.

In 2018, we founded the association of Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) and launched it in 2020. Our intention is to enable women to get into the security sector and give them the means to grow. Many women who get into security get stuck at the basic security guard level. At Senaca, we have a good number of female supervisors who are doing an outstanding job. A lot of them are working as CCTV operators, but we also want to see women take up technical jobs. That means putting on overalls, wearing a safety helmet and climbing a mast to install CCTV cameras. Or becoming a dog handler for explosives detection or a digital forensics expert, a cyber security expert or a VIP protection officer.

It is a sector that really excites me. It helps me challenge myself and helps me to challenge many other people. Something that I am very proud of is when someone says they have seen me in security and when they grow up, or when they finish college, they want to pursue a career in security.

We are inspired when we get recognized. Senaca has been recognized by women corporate directors for visionary leadership and was awarded many times: at the OSPAs for Outstanding Security Director of 2021 and Outstanding Female Security Professional in 2021, and at the Gender Mainstreaming Awards as the Positive Role Model Champion for East Africa. It does have an effect, not only on my organization, but on the security industry generally across the continent and probably around the world to see a woman leading in security.

For more information, please visit: https://senacaworld.com.


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