Managing Guard Forces in Africa

Guard force services are vitally important to the U.S. Government and private industry. It can be a tough business though. The hours are long, the salaries often low and the client requirements challenging. Retention rates are low too, and the cost of training new guards can eat into the minimal profits that government contracts in particular permit.

The caliber of guard in the United States has risen in the past few decades. The poor economy has pushed many educated and experienced people into private guard force work that otherwise might not have considered it.

Africa GuardAfrica, however, it is a different market. Managing guard forces is particularly challenging there. The guard candidates in many of the countries on that continent have no education, have never been exposed to modern conveniences like running water or electricity, and have different value systems. Language is also an issue. For example, there are countries like Togo, the size of Rhode Island, that has 43 mutually incomprehensible languages spoken within its borders.

Probably the most important thing to consider when staffing and managing a guard force in Africa is culture. Different cultures think differently. This is especially true in Africa, where Western culture is not embedded in the fabric of society. The way of life there can seem alien, particular to many Americans that may not have experience working outside the United States. You cannot take for granted that a local will approach a problem, or act in the same way, as an American or other Westerner may act.

Even with these challenges, you can build and manage an effective guard force in Africa. People are people. They respond to the same general leadership and management techniques no matter where you are in the world.

Below are some basic tips. There is nothing particularly new or revealing here. If you provide leadership, keeping in mind the cultural context within which you are operating, you will succeed.

  • Standards: Set standards and stick to them. Interview the candidates. Ensure they are physically capable of doing the job.
  • Structure: Guard forces need a paramilitary structure. This is especially true in many of the countries in Africa where local customs include governing their communities according to strict tribal hierarchies, with a chief or headman to whom the rest look up to and follow. Choose your supervisors carefully and empower them. You have to be careful in the selection process though. There is not necessarily equality among tribes in some African locales. Giving the wrong person leadership responsibilities over members of a different tribe may have disastrous consequences. I learned the hard way, after a machete attack on one of my supervisors (he survived with only minor injuries), to divide my guard force up into shifts according to tribal membership.
  • Pride: Give the guards a sense of pride in themselves and their work. Clean uniforms, training, respect.
  • Discipline: Devise clear guard orders, and if the guards can’t read, then have orders read to them during guard mount. Implement appropriate sanctions for violations.
  • Cultural Awareness: Understand what motivates your guards.

In Africa, motivation may be something as simple as food or drink. I found a bottle of American wine purchased at our Embassy commissary worked wonders. It was a reward for the Guard of the Month was a heck of a motivator. It turns out that American wine was unavailable on the local economy. The guards could sell the bottle for the equivalent of two months’ salary.

You don’t have to compromise on discipline or standards. The basic principles of management apply no matter where you are located. In Africa, however, you may need to be just a bit more flexible than you would in the U.S.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Bill Gaskill

Mr. Gaskill has over 20 years of extensive international experience with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State, followed by 10+ years in the corporate sector.During his career at State, he developed and led comprehensive security programs in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America.He was Chief of Security at five U.S. Embassies:Tel Aviv, Athens, Lima, Nicosia and Lome.He has worked in more than 144 countries and has an extensive network of global contacts.His areas of professional expertise include risk assessments, physical security, access control, guard force operations and management, counter terrorism, investigations, foreign security liaison, personal protection and Emergency Plans and Preparations.

As Vice President of a Security Fusion Center, Bill has provided risk management advice and direction to major Fortune 100 defense industry, ultra high net worth and other clients.

As Global Director for Security, Alem International, Bill planned and directed all facets of the security and risk mitigation strategies for the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay that took place in over 34 countries.

Bill was commissioned as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer in the US Army immediately after college.

Mr. Gaskill has a Bachelor of Science degree in Ancient History with a math minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.He has a current Top Secret/SCI clearance.He has professional fluency ratings in Spanish, Greek, Hebrew and French, and has a working knowledge of Russian.
Bill Gaskill
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