Conﬂ ict and Societ y: Advances in Research 3 (2017): 8–23 © Berghahn Books
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels”
Policing Partnerships in Nairobi, Kenya
Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
! ABSTRACT: Research on policing in Africa has provided tremendous insight into how
non-state actors, such as gangs, vigilantes, private security companies, and community
initiatives, increasingly provide security for urban dwellers across the continent. Con-
sequently, the state has been categorized as one order among many whose authority
is co-constituted through relations with other actors. Drawing on our ethnographic
eldwork in the past two years, we highlight how the state police dominates security
arrangements in Nairobi and asserts itself not just as one order among many. We show
how, in various policing partnerships between police, private security companies, and
residents’ associations, the state police acts as a coagulating agent of such practices.
In order to elucidate this relationship, we utilize the “junior partner” model from the
criminology literature and expand based on the community policing initiatives that in
Nairobi act as the “eyes, ears, and wheels” of the police.
! KEYWORDS: authority, Kenya, Nairobi, policing, private security, urban
Nairobi—like many other urban centers across the globe—is marked by a pluralized security
landscape, where numerous state and non-state actors provide various security services to its
residents. During the past decades, anthropological studies on non-state policing in Africa have
proliferated, including the works of Bruce Baker (2008, 2010), Lars Buur (2006), Tessa Diphoorn
(2016b), Ste en Jensen (2008a), Helene Kyed (2009), and David Pratten (2008), to name but a
few. One of the major fruits of these studies has been a growing recognition that the state police
is not the sole actor engaged in the provision of security, but rather that various forms of hybrid,
plural, or “twilight policing” practices are performed by a range of actors who are not (directly)
encapsulated by the state, and in some cases, operate in a certain degree of isolation, away from
state oversight and authority. Several studies based in Kenya (e.g., Anderson 2002; Rasmussen
2010; Ruteere and Pommerolle 2003; Skilling 2016; Smith 2015; van Stapele 2015) have also
identi ed this role taken up by central role of non-state security providers.
Based on such studies, we started our eldwork in Nairobi, Kenya, by primarily focusing on
non-state policing bodies, and we aimed to esh out their security performances, albeit in rela-
tion to the state police. Soon enough, we were both confronted with an empirical realization that
the state police in Kenya is far from obsolete, absent, weak, or simply one order among many.
Rather, the state police, we argue, o en functions as a coagulating agent within diverse security
arrangements. In the context of a hybrid and pluralized policing in Kenya, the state police dom-
inates security narratives, experiences, and practices, although it does not single-handedly own
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 9
them. Non-state security bodies see and position themselves as the “eyes, ears, and wheels” of
the Kenyan police.
However, these non-state actors cannot be neglected altogether. ey are not insigni cant
agents making a quick appearance within a state-centric analysis, and by treating them as such,
we would fall prey to much of the critique bestowed on research on policing in Africa. Our
empirical material shows that the state police is a dominant and prominent actor whose power
is constantly harnessed and domesticated by private security companies and residents’ organi-
zations. ese practices allow us to foreground the ontological question of the state and point
to the relevance of a relational approach in the analysis of policing and security provision. e
arrangements we investigate interfere with how the state is performed and produced in daily
(security) practices throughout Nairobi. ey span from neighborhood-speci c partnerships
to national legal documents and become the base from which to further question the analytical
relevance of the public-private divide.
is article draws on ethnographic eldwork conducted by both authors between 2014 and
2016 in the rather a uent area of northwestern Nairobi, including neighborhoods such as
Runda, Gigiri, Muthaiga, Parklands, Westlands, Spring Valley, and Loresho. We recognize that
our focus on these geographical areas inherently excludes various actors who are prevalent in
other parts of Nairobi, particularly the lower socioeconomic neighborhoods (see Price et al.
2016; van Stapele 2015), and acknowledge that the security arrangements may be fundamentally
di erent in these areas. Yet, because of the scope of this article and the focus of our research, we
will not explore that dimension further. Both authors joined the patrols of the mobile response
teams of di erent private security companies, both during the day and night shi s. is included
patrols with or without police presence in the vehicle, either informally or formally arranged. In
total we interviewed more than 40 relevant actors, and ve interviews were conducted together
by both authors. e re ections on these interviews, as well as eld notes of particular events,
were shared and compared.
In the next section, we present an episode from the rst author’s ethnographic eldwork, a
vignette to empirically introduce the article and ground our main argument. Successively, we
discuss and present our conceptual contribution to both the elds of policing and authority in
Africa and criminology-inspired models of policing. We then o er more empirical material and
its respective analysis, highlighting the roles and the mutual relations between the police, the
private security companies, and the residents. In this section we also examine the new Private
Security Regulation Act. In the last section, we conclude by reevaluating the approach of crimino-
logical models and argue that analyses on policing partnerships should also include other actors,
such as resident associations. We show how the dynamic and unequal relationships between
these three collective actors resist dominant claims about African states as essentially “failing”
and “weak,” and instead we suggest that the security arrangements in middle-class Nairobi allow
for the state apparatus to be a necessary actor—albeit not the only one—in security provision.
“Give Me 500!”
In August 2015, the rst author joined a patrol in an upper-class neighborhood of Nairobi
(neighborhood A) with James and Tom, two private security guards from Maximum Security.1
In the car, owned by the private security company, two police o cers are hosted during night
patrols. ese police o cers are each paid 250 Kenyan Shillings per shi , on top of their regular
salary, and in this particular case, the residents’ association from neighborhood A sponsors such
10 ! Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
We drove to the local police station to pick up two o cers for the joint patrol. At the station, a
sleepy policeman opened the freshly painted gate in the colors of the Kenya Police ag, a stark
contrast to the generally run-down aesthetic of the place. We drove past the o ces right next to
the gate and headed to the back, where the police canteen o ered food and other entertainment
to o -duty o cers. James, the driver, pulled the handbrake, and Tom, who was sitting in the
back, opened the rear door of the van, stepped outside, and leaned on the seat. He lit a Sports-
man cigarette and looked toward a vegetable stand a few meters away. ere, an out-of-uniform
policeman grabbed an orange and pretended to throw it at us. Instead he, who I later found out
is called Kimani, approached us and immediately came over to my window. He knew we were
there to pick up two of his colleagues for the night patrol routine.
Kimani leaned on my door and started regurgitating all his frustrations and grudges against
Maximum Security. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, and his cigarette waving in front
of my face seemed very unstable between his ngers. Burned ash was building up, and I was
worried that my legs would soon become his ashtray, but I didn’t say anything. “Let me tell you
one thing,” he yelled very close to my face, “I will never ever come with this car for 250 [Kenya
Shillings] when NW Security gives me 500.” With a closed st he continued: “Give me 500!”2 He
repeated these exact words 10 or more times, as a mantra.
Meanwhile, James, who was sitting in the driver’s seat next to me, was trying to keep his cool.
He told Kimani that I was only a researcher, a guest, and not a white manager of the company,
as the o cer might have assumed. Hoping to stop Kimani’s rant, James also reminded him
that before this joint arrangement started a few years back, the team of Maximum Security had
worked quite well, also without the police. He was suggesting that he and his crew were not in
dire need of police o cers in their patrol car and that it would not change much in their daily
operations, which he later further explained to me. He wanted to suggest that if this arrange-
ment were to collapse, the police o cers would be the ones not getting the sought-a er extra
income, while for him and his colleagues, things would be pretty much the same.
is threat, however, sounded empty as it came out of James’s mouth, and Kimani kept his
rant going. When James—trying to get him o our backs—reminded him that this extra money
comes not from his company but from the residents’ association, Kimani sprang back, waved
his hand, and shouted, “ en go! en go!”—putting up an in exible and authoritative facial
expression. Now a reluctantly confrontational James reminded Kimani that the same association
had also built and painted the gate of the station and that this was merely one of the gi s they
had donated to the police station. Yet Kimani didn’t back down, and one of his colleagues who
had been observing the scene from afar came over, took him by the arm, and pulled him away
from the car while he was still shouting at us. When he got a bit farther away James exploded in
fury: “ is is Kenya Police!” and he started the car to drive o without the two o cers.
On our way out, just before the gate, another police o cer stopped the vehicle and jumped
in, ordering James to drop him o at his post. He too started complaining, albeit in a more dip-
lomatic tone compared to Kimani, adding some other grudges against the company alongside
the same money issue. When he also le , James’s frustrations exploded. According to him, the
police o cers always complain about every possible thing during the joint patrols: “too much
light here,” “too dark there,” “only one door in the back of the van,” “no national radio,” “no VHF
police radio,” and “no mattress in the back of the van,” to name but a few. Yet it became clear to
me that James could not really express these frustrations to the police directly, and that night
a er night, he returned back to the same station to pick up two o cers.
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 11
is vignette shows the coming together of di erent actors—two security o cers working for a
particular security company, two police o cers at a certain police station, and the residents of
this neighborhood and their association that supports the joint patrol scheme. is partnership
mainly aims at supporting the police in their daily tasks of patrolling and policing in general by
providing them with a vehicle. It is in these regards that private security companies and residents’
organizations alike o en referred to themselves as the “eyes, ears, and wheels” of the police.
From such arrangements, the police service comes out as a coagulating agent of these security
provision partnerships. e police are preeminent actors, but they do not single-handedly dom-
inate security practices. Only through the relations between the police and the other security
actors with their assets can such arrangements actually take place. Conversely, such practices
would not be possible without the police’s contribution in terms of authority and repower.
Policing and Authority in Africa
Policing and security in Africa have received signi cant scholarly attention throughout the past
decades. Studies within anthropology in particular have provided insight into the everyday secu-
rity practices across the continent. Although some of these studies have examined the everyday
workings of state armed forces (e.g., Beek 2012; Göpfert 2012; Hornberger 2011; Owen 2016),
most of the research on policing in Africa has empirically centered around non-state actors,
which broadly refers to actors who are not (directly) aligned to or working within the larger
state apparatus. ese studies have focused on gangs (Jensen 2008a; van Stapele 2015), vigilante
organizations (Buur 2006; Pratten 2008), political and traditional authorities (Buur and Kyed
2006), community policing initiatives (Kyed 2009), and recently the work of private security
companies (Diphoorn 2016b).
Within this body of work on non-state policing in Africa, two themes seem to dominate the
eld, namely, violence and authority. More speci cally, a main focus is how the use of violence
by other actors in uences and shapes the authority of the state police. In doing so, much of the
anthropological work on policing in Africa has debunked and challenged state-centric assump-
tions.3 Largely drawing from Philip Abrams (1988) and Timothy Mitchell (2006), anthropolog-
ical works—o en referred to as the “anthropology of the state”—have suggested that the state
does not solely comprise institutions and o cials but is made up of particular ideas and repre-
sentations of the state as well. State practices and ideas of “stateness” are not solely performed
and created by state entities such as the state police. On the contrary, the enactment of “unstately
stateliness” (Lund 2006: 677) also constitutes how citizens perceive and experience the state, and
it is performed (Blom Hansen 2006) through daily practices and “everyday policing” (Jensen
2008b) by state and non-state actors.
In concurrence with Olly Owen and Sarah Cooper-Knock (2014), we believe the non-state
focus of policing in Africa has o en neglected and downplayed the crucial role that state insti-
tutions play in everyday security practices. By drawing from our empirical material in Nai-
robi, we argue that the state apparatus (and the state police in particular) is not only a form of
authority that non-state policing bodies draw from, but also the entity that coagulates security
performances in middle- to upper-class neighborhoods of Nairobi. As the coagulating agent of
security partnerships, such as the one highlighted in the vignette, the police allows the com-
ing together of a variety of di erent actors to implement security provision arrangements that
would not be viable without the presence of the police o cers.
Within this line of thinking, concepts such as “hybridity” or “twilight” are used to describe
how various actors exert and claim authority, as well as how di erent people recognize and
12 ! Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
acknowledge di erent sources of authority (see, e.g., Ja e 2013; Meagher 2011, 2012). In these
contexts, the production of such authority highlights the in-between-ness and interconnections
between di erent actors at various levels in jointly performing stately authority (see Lund 2006).
Francesco Colona and Rivke Ja e (2016) analyze the cases of a community policing group
that organizes patrols and hosts police personnel in their private vehicles in Nairobi, and gangs
who provide security and dispense justice in Kingston, Jamaica. e authors show how the
boundaries between di erent security actors are increasingly blurry and highlight a hybrid form
of (security) governance. Diphoorn (2016b) presents the idea of “twilight policing,” which refers
to performances of security that simultaneously undermine and support the state apparatus in
Durban, South Africa. Diphoorn argues that armed response security o cers are increasingly
taking over roles traditionally assigned to the state police. At the same time, however, they are
mimicking the state, enacting statist practices, and thereby drawing from the state as a means
of ascertaining authority.
A common assumption underpinning the studies engaged above is the debunking of ideas of
a “weak” or “failing” state (see also Abrahamsen and Williams 2011; Diphoorn 2016b; Ho man
2011). Although the notion of a “failing state” has received ample criticism, the state police (and
o en the state apparatus as a whole) is still described with terms such as “absent,” “scarce,” and
“weak.” One important consequence of labeling “the state” as weak or failed is the rei cation of
the state in one single, internally homogenous unit (Menkhaus 2010). erefore, a judgment
of weakness or failure is o en totalizing and does not allow for the emergence of contradic-
tions and complexities. Although many of our informants in Kenya described the state police
as unreliable, ine cient, corrupt, and understa ed, many also used words such as “repressive”
and “controlling,” which we believe refer not to weakness and absence, but rather to an extant,
strong, and in uential role that the state o en takes. In this article, we highlight these contra-
dicting elements that make up the state in its ideas and apparatuses.
Among other consequences, such labeling standardizes state apparatuses to Westphalian
norms. Modes of thinking about the state as the sole sovereign entity coming from European and
North American experiences do not match the diverse realities of state models around the globe,
especially in the so-called postcolonial world (Call 2008; Comaro and Comaro 2006; Hansen
and Stepputat 2005). e contemporary Kenyan state is, therefore, certainly di erent from West-
ern state apparatuses, yet these two types share important similarities as well. e transition from
a “colonial” to an “independent” Kenyan state in the early 1960s was in fact modeled on ideal
Westphalian standards,4 making the archetypical Western state, the colonial one, and the newly
independent state genealogically related (Mbembe 2001). us, the current Kenyan state appa-
ratus cannot exist outside the complex and time-speci c relation with its colonial predecessor.
It is on these premises that an analytical argument based on work conducted on policing part-
nerships in Europe and North America (primarily from criminology) can be fruitful. Although
these criminological tools help us understand the traces of the Westphalian state in Kenya, we
need to avoid the danger of directly reproducing Eurocentric perspectives on policing in Africa
(see, e.g., Baker 2010). Departing from the empirical speci cities of the Kenyan state and the
security partnerships that unfold in Nairobi and inspired by the anthropological insights explored
above, we aim to amend and expand such criminological models to the Kenyan context.
Concepts such as “hybridity” and “twilight” provide us with an analytical understanding of
the larger sociopolitical context within which Nairobi policing partnerships take place. e anal-
ysis of the actors, their mutual relations, and the objects involved will bene t from a relational
approach to policing and security provision in order to understand how authority and order are
constituted by a plurality of actors who collaborate, compete, and enroll each other (Kyed and
Albrecht 2015). Peter Stenning’s (1989) classical criminological model of policing individuates
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 13
six stages of partnering between the private security industry and the police alone. In light of
our empirical material, we expand this model in order to account for other relations and actors
that play important roles, such as residents’ associations, which in turn highlights the hybridity,
the twilight, and the in-between-ness of these arrangements in performing stately practices.
Based on the h stage of Stenning’s classi cation, Trevor Jones and Tim Newburn (1998)
proposed the “junior partner” model. is model concerns an active partnership, both o cially
and uno cially, that contains a strict hierarchical structure. It has been identi ed in many situ-
ations when analyzing the relationship between the private security industry and the state police
(see Button 2007; Rigakos 2002). is model assumes a partnership wherein the state police is
the “senior” partner and the private policing bodies are the “junior” partners “whose role is to
give the public police whatever assistance they can to help them do the job of ‘real policing’”
(Stenning 1989: 180).5
is model aligns with the thoughts expressed by Adam Crawford (2006) and Ian Loader and
Neil Walker (2004: 225), who repeatedly argue that the state “structures the security network
both in its presence and in its absence, both in its explicit directions and in its implicit permis-
sions.” Despite the pluralized landscape of policing, state-centered approaches, which propose
a more dominant role of the state in security governance, continue to reign in understanding
public-private partnering, particularly in the European and North American context. We believe
this speaks to our empirical ndings in Nairobi, where we observed how non-state security pro-
viders de ne themselves as a “junior” partner and enact a supportive role by acting as the “eyes,
ears, and wheels” of the state police. Although this hierarchy is not always clear-cut and is o en
negotiated and challenged, as we will show later, there is a rather apparent mutual understanding
of the di erent roles and expectations among the various actors. While we emphasize the preva-
lent demarcation of tasks between the di erent actors of Nairobi’s policing partnerships and we
argue that the “junior partner” model allows us to capture this, we do not argue that entangle-
ments and interconnections are absent, as in fact the terms “hybrid” and “twilight” suggest.
Accordingly, we want to expand the “junior partner” model in two speci c ways. First, the
“junior partner” model does not encapsulate multifaceted forms of partnering and tends to
regard interactions as rather clear-cut and concise (Diphoorn and Berg 2014). We want to
include complexity by showing that there is room for negotiation in the implementation of
policing partnerships in Nairobi. Second, the model is based on two actors—the private secu-
rity industry and the state police—while we include diverse forms of community policing, such
as active residents’ associations. We therefore widen the dual-actor approach to a formation
that includes the police, the private security, and the residents. We hold that this multi-actor
formation does not seek to be airtight (see also Diphoorn and Berg 2014), and we acknowledge
further possibilities in terms of which actors can enter such arrangements. Even though the cat-
egory of residents is the one we analytically foreground because of our empirical material, oth-
ers (some of which are mapped out in the next section; see also Ruteere and Pommerolle 2003)
are also important though underexplored in this article. It is in the uidity and potentialities of
these arrangements that the blurry demarcation lines between the di erent actors, and between
the realm of the state versus the non-state, come to light.
Nairobi Security Landscape: Police, Private Security, Residents, and Law
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels”
roughout our eldwork, we noticed how non-state security providers, such as the private
security industry and community policing initiatives, acted as the “eyes, ears, and wheels” of the
14 ! Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
police. ey took on—in their own narratives—a subordinate and supportive role toward the
state police. In this section, we discuss how this role was expressed during our interviews with
security personnel and community policing participants, as well as throughout the observations
we made during meetings of organizations within the private security industry and joint patrols
with the private security companies and the state police.
e term “eyes, ears, and wheels” is an emic one that emerged during the rst interview with
an active member of a community-based policing initiative in a middle-class neighborhood
of Nairobi (neighborhood B).6 While the phrase resurfaced in several interviews later on, this
community policing member repeated it frequently and stressed the “wheels” element by say-
ing that “we take them [the police] there.” During an interview with the security chairman of
a resident association of another upper-class neighborhood of Nairobi (neighborhood C), he
explicitly stated, “Security in any nation doesn’t belong to private security companies, but to
the police,” and he then discussed how the association was geared toward assisting the police in
maintaining that role.
e idea of a supporting role surfaced also during our interviews with the owners and man-
agers of private security companies. Although many were quick to criticize the state police,
all of them highlighted how their work “supported” the state police. is was evident at both
the organizational and operational level of the industry. While attending some of the meetings
organized by two associations of the private security industry, the members clearly looked at
the state police for permission and guidance. When particular issues and procedures were dis-
cussed, phrases such as “We need to check with the commander of police station X” were com-
mon. is was especially the case regarding the use of several objects, such as sirens, bulletproof
vests, and uniforms.7 us, at an organizational level, we see that the private security industry
posits itself in subordination to the state police, looking to them for permission and authority.
If judging only on the basis of our interviews, we would conclude that the original “junior
partner” model is present in Kenya, both with the private security industry and members from
community policing initiatives, who position themselves as such. However, during our joint
patrols with these actors, we encountered a more complex reality that also demonstrated some
room for negotiation for how this supportive role takes shape. is was evident in the vignette
presented above. Although numerous elements can be analyzed from that episode, we will limit
ourselves to an unpacking of the term “eyes, ears, and wheels.”
e usage of “eyes and ears” is a common phrase that is heard globally in the policing realm.
It alludes to the role of the private security industry, community policing organizations, and
citizenry at large in a widespread and di use surveillance apparatus or network providing intel-
ligence to the police. Yet the addition of “wheels” in Kenya is interesting and requires further
analysis. e rst point is the necessity of mobility, which is rea rmed by the phrase “we take
them there” by the community policing organization member. In the vignette from neighbor-
hood A, we clearly see how the security company and the residents’ association come together
to provide the operational and physical “wheels” (a car). Patrolling is widely assumed to be
one of the core tasks of state police, to show visibility and provide reassurance to the public. By
providing the “wheels,” the non-state policing actors are assisting the state police in carrying
out one of its essential tasks. In fact, this is even more so with the community policing group of
neighborhood B, which conducts patrols in privately owned vehicles and thus also supplies the
A second reading of “wheels” has a more gurative interpretation: private security companies
may provide the “wheels” and literally drive the vehicles, but this does not mean they fully con-
trol them. In the vignette above, James, a security o cer, automatically inhabits a subordinate
position to Kimani, the police o cer. Furthermore, later on, he feels forced to assist the other
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 15
police o cer as well, despite his reservations and frustrations in doing so. Even more so, James
feels compelled to suppress these emotions in front of the o cers, thereby respecting the hier-
archical division of labor standing between the two. However, at the same time, James reminds
Kimani that the residents’ association sponsors the partnership, both through payment for the
o cer and other gi s previously donated. erefore, although we clearly observe an authori-
tative role of the police, we also see how other actors are not shy to remind the police who are
enabling them to perform their core tasks. e relationship among these three actors is thus far
from straightforward, and there is room for the other actors to emphasize or accentuate their
respective roles as well. Nevertheless, it is the police who determine whether these patrols occur,
yet under what exact conditions these decisions are made seems to be negotiable. For example,
the di ering payments by various companies points toward an ability to negotiate the nancial
price paid for o cers, and leads to our next point.
e third issue concerns a nancial dimension: we contend that the idea of “wheels” refers
not only to an operational and physical assistance, but also to a nancial contribution, an ele-
ment that has been identi ed elsewhere (Diphoorn and Grassiani 2016; Dupont 2004) as one
of the main ways in which non-state policing bodies, particularly the private security industry,
support state policing e orts. is is particularly crucial in countries such as Kenya where nan-
cial resources are o en lacking: police stations in Nairobi are known to be extremely undereq-
uipped, and vehicles and fuel are among the scarcest resources. In our cases, the nancial
contributions take di erent shapes and formats. For example, in neighborhood A, the residents’
association provides an extra daily income for the o cers on duty and regularly provides gi s
to the local police stations, such as the building and painting of the station gate of the police
station that James reminded Kimani of in the vignette. e provision of “gi s” to police o cers
and police stations is a practice we found to be quite common in upper-class neighborhoods in
Nairobi. In neighborhood B, volunteers personally host police o cers in their own cars, o en
pay for the fuel, and regularly provide refreshments during the shi s.
What these instances point at, then, is the very peculiar role the police play in security provi-
sion partnerships throughout middle- to upper-class Nairobi. e police are a coagulating agent
of all these arrangements. is is to say, they are the element that enables these practices to take
place. Although this is, clearly, a preeminent role the police play, it is not one of straightforward
dominance. Its authority is harnessed by others such as the private security industry and the
residents, who, however, recognize that these partnerships would not run without the police
presence. Conversely, the police would not be able to do such capillary policing without the
intervention of private security companies and residents’ associations.
e Police, the Private Security Companies
and the New Private Security Regulation Act
Similar to other British colonies, state policing in Kenya emerged under British colonial rule, and
the corps was divided into two originally independent sectors: the administrative police (AP)
and the regular police (RP).8 Since the establishment of the new Kenyan constitution of 2010, the
state police have undergone numerous reforms, of which many are still being implemented. One
of the main changes is that the two branches—the AP and the RP—have been brought under the
overarching command of the Inspector General (IG) of the police and are together part of the
Kenya Police Service. e police force is o en in the midst of highly politicized controversies,
such as the current vetting of numerous o cers in relation to di erent nationwide cases and
the issue of the 2014 recruitment of 10,000 new police o cers that was deemed unlawful by
the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) (Diphoorn and Kagwe 2015). e state
16 ! Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
police, as a whole, are generally considered ine ective (Musoi et al. 2013), lacking capability
to deal with crime in the city, in regular collusion with criminals (Omenya and Lubaale 2012),
and generally corrupt, ill trained, and underequipped. Such sentiments were also voiced during
our eldwork, where research participants provided countless depictions of an ine cient and
untrustworthy police force that demanded bribes during face-to-face encounters.
is poor perception of the state police is one (but not the only) reason for the growth of the
private security industry in Kenya since the 1960s. Experiencing a continuous trend since, the
industry particularly grew a er the high-pro le Westgate shopping mall attack in September
2013 (Soy 2014). Estimates suggest that more than two thousand private security companies
operate in Kenya, of which only nine hundred are registered, and with an annual industry turn-
over of 32.2 billion Kenya Shillings, or about $43 million (Wairagu et al. 2004). e industry
accounts for more than 300,000 employees, compared to 40,000 police o cers (Mkutu and
Sabala 2007). At the time of writing, most private security industry personnel repeatedly used
the gures of 400,000 (and more) security personnel, 3,000 security companies, and 80,000
police personnel. All of these were presented and accepted as reliable amounts. Among the
wide range of security services provided, such as cash-in-transit and electronic monitoring,
guarding services constitute the majority, with 47 percent of the industry (Wairagu et al. 2004:
29). Until recently, the private security industry in Kenya lacked formal state regulation and
was primarily organized along self-regulatory mechanisms, namely, two employee associations:
the Kenya Security Industry Alliance (KSIA) and the Protective Security Industry Association
(PSIA) (Diphoorn 2016a). Generally speaking, the KSIA comprises the larger, internationally
owned companies who consider themselves “elitist.” e PSIA, on the other hand, generally
consists of Kenyan-owned companies that primarily target government contracts.
Yet this situation changed on 20 May 2016, when the Kenyan Parliament nally approved the
Private Security Regulation Act of 2016, a er more than 20 years since its rst dra ing. All sides
of the industry have applauded the passing of the act, as it entails a formal recognition of the
industry by the state, and a constitution of an Authority governing the industry and its relation
with the state apparatus. Furthermore, it commences a formalized system to control and “clean
out” the industry by eliminating illegally operating companies, o en referred to as juakalis and
Despite the general approval, many industry personnel also shared apprehensions about the
act. A few examples that were voiced during interviews conducted in the summer of 2016 con-
cerned the process of actually implementing the Act and the budget to do so, the proposed
training standards of the security o cers, the withdrawal and renewing of licenses, the delay
in appointing the members of the board’s Authority, and the fear among the industry person-
nel that the Authority is regarded as a “state a air” that will “totally act on behalf of the state.”9
However, two issues in particular stand out in relation to the focus of this article, namely, the
relationship and the potential partnerships between the industry and the state.
e rst main concern addresses the issue of rearms: the Act categorically forbids private
security providers from using rearms. Before the Act was passed, this was a highly debated
issue in Kenya (see Diphoorn 2016a), with some companies demanding armed security per-
sonnel and others insisting on the opposite. With the passing of the act, the debate seems to
have ended, although many individuals still hope there will be room for amendments to alter
this. Regardless of whether this will occur, the result is that private security companies remain
dependent on the state police for armed protection of their clients, as the vignette from neigh-
borhood A has shown.
e second and perhaps most complicated problem concerns section VI, article 45 of the Pri-
vate Security Regulation Act, titled “Cooperation with National Security Organs,” which states:
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 17
(1) Whenever called upon by a national security organ, the Inspector General of the National
Police Service or the Cabinet Secretary, a private security service provider shall cooperate
in the maintenance of law and order or in any other manner as may be provided for in the
instrument of request.
(2) e Cabinet Secretary in consultation with the Inspector General and the Authority shall
make regulations generally to provide for any matter relating to the cooperation, scope, mech-
anism and command in the case of cooperation with the private security service provider.
Primarily because of its rather vague description, many industry personnel are exceptionally
worried about what this will operationally entail. More speci cally, there is concern that the
state armed forces will abuse this and call on companies to regularly assist them: “I fear that
they will dra us, our o cers, for any situation, any state of emergency and con ict, to join the
army or other armed forces. But this is impossible! We cannot always be there, at their disposal!
And who will pay for this?”10 erefore, although the general attitude of the Act formalizes the
private security industry as a sector that is relevant for security matters, it does so by formally
relegating it to a minor role versus the police.
e reforms the police force is undergoing and the Private Security Regulation Act underline
a moment of change in which the Kenyan state is trying to recon gure its security landscape.
Although it is di cult to predict where this is headed, it shows how the police force is neither
the sole dominant actor concerned with security nor obviously an irrelevant one. Conversely,
the size of the private security industry, compared to the police, demands a serious recognition
of the potentialities of this sector. It is within the context of these tensions that policing partner-
ships are taking place in Nairobi.
e issues of rearms and cooperation with national security organs present in the Private
Security Regulation Act reinforce both ideas of the private security industry as the “eyes, ears,
and wheels” of the police, and the police as the coagulating agent of security partnerships in
Nairobi. In a double-binding movement, the Act forces the private security industry into a
junior position vis-à-vis the national police yet leaves the police operationally dependent on
the private security industry. While the stipulations in the Act keep the private security vehicles
patrolling the streets of Nairobi dependent on the police o cers’ rearms (and the symbolic
authority that comes with them), it also normalizes the need for the police service to use vehi-
cles and other assets of the private industry to e ectively conduct policing work.
roughout the article, we have already mentioned di erent initiatives undertaken by residents
of three particular neighborhoods and how they organize security provision partnerships. ese
forms of citizen-based protection were scarcely acknowledged until a few years ago yet are cur-
rently on the rise. Among the most famous in Kenya is the Nyumba Kumi11 initiative launched
by the national government in October 2013 (a er the Westgate mall attack). Imported from a
Tanzanian experiment, it tries to formalize initiatives of self-provision of security already taking
place in Nairobi. It is unevenly enforced, especially in lower-income neighborhoods and poor
urban settlements, and our informants suggested in several conversations that it was a state
surveillance tool against poor urban—and o en criminalized—communities. is state initia-
tive thus also positions the state police as the responsible actor that intervenes, monitors, and
controls the situation, and residents as aiding partners that provide assistance and intelligence.
At the time of writing, the entire scheme was still being set up, making it too soon to conclude
how it will be implemented and received.
18 ! Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
In addition to this government-implemented scheme, we observed other forms of security
provision where residents themselves initiate and champion a variety of security practices. We
particularly focused on three di erent initiatives. Neighborhood A, an upper-class residential
area where politicians, diplomats, and generally wealthy families live in compounded villas, is
where the episode described in the vignette took place. e residents’ association here is active
and o en negotiates with the municipality regarding urban planning of the area and with pri-
vate contractors for the upkeep of the streets that they privately support. ey consider “secu-
rity” a fundamental docket of their association, and hence they decided to sponsor the presence
of two police o cers in the patrol car of a private security company on a regular basis during
the night shi . In neighborhood B, residents promote a quite di erent initiative. As a much
older (and better organized) community policing group, they operate an active 24/7 hotline and
conduct patrols every evening with their own (private) vehicles and two police o cers from
the local police station. It was during an interview with a member of this initiative that we rst
heard the reference to “eyes, ears, and wheels.” In neighborhood C, another middle- to upper-
class residential area, the residents’ association went a step further and became a semicorporate
institution. e association bought a service provider company through which they can also
manage security and other services in the area. For instance, they installed CCTV cameras, and
acquired the permit to a shared radio frequency speci cally for the private security companies
operational in their neighborhood. One of these security companies is also directly employed
by the residents’ association to carry out patrols with police o cers from the local police sta-
tion. ese initiatives in neighborhoods A, B, and C are merely three examples of the myriad
of initiatives, categorized here under the label “community policing,” that make up Nairobi’s
security arrangements that usually involve police, private security companies, residents, and/or
All these arrangements revolve around the exchange of a particular object that the police
possess, namely, the rearm. e institutional monopoly on the use of rearms13 of state secu-
rity apparatuses is not only a symbolic (re)source of authority reinforced by the Private Security
Regulation Act, but it becomes a resource that can be translated in cash,14 both for the constab-
ularies on patrol and for their superiors who allegedly receive a share of such payments. e
rearm then becomes the crucial object that facilitates the role of the police as the coagulating
agent of security partnerships, and in the process restates the imaginary of a monopoly of vio-
lence—to use a Weberian reference—of the Kenyan state.
A particular formal arrangement that the second author closely analyzed is one between
seven private security companies and the Diplomatic Police Unit (DPU), a particular police
unit that serves the diplomatic community of Kenya. rough a formal memorandum of under-
standing (MoU), the companies engage in joint patrols with DPU o cers in neighborhoods
with a high level of diplomatic and UN personnel, and have monthly meetings to share crime
intelligence. As the DPU o cers have the primary mandate of serving diplomatic personnel,
these patrols occur in the areas where the o ces (such as embassies) and residences of the diplo-
matic personnel are located. Even though not formally part of the arrangement, representatives
from community policing initiatives and residents’ associations attend these monthly meetings
and o en support the arrangement nancially through sporadic donations.
First, this arrangement was also a case where non-state actors supported the operations of the
state police: they provided the “wheels” and nancial payments to assist the state police in exe-
cuting one of its core tasks. Second, the DPU o cers were fully in charge, both during the meet-
ings and the patrols: they determined which sites would be checked on, which route would be
taken, and the entire sequence of the patrols. Although the company owns the vehicle and pays
the driver, the DPU o cers determine and manage the entire procedure. Last and most import-
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 19
ant, we see some space for negotiation concerning the conditions of the patrols; the companies
decide among each other who is allotted which night, and the amount of the payment is also
un xed. erefore, although the arrangement with the DPU is more formalized compared to
other ones—such as the patrol from the vignette that relies more on “gentlemen’s agreements,”
as one of our informants put it—the rules of the game are the same. In both cases, there is an
exchange of payment for repower. e companies provide the “wheels,” and the commanding
police o cer of the local police station in question decides which police o cers (armed) will be
assigned to the private security vehicle.
is negotiable space comes further to the fore if we contrast our empirical material with
the legal dispositions of the Private Security Regulation Act. All the arrangements except for
the Nyumba Kumi are initiated and spearheaded by the private security companies and/or the
clients and their residents’ associations. Yet, this does not seem to be taken fully into account
in the Act, which instead implicitly assumes the initiative to be of the national security organs
(section VI, art. 1). Article 2 of section VI, however, leaves room for national authorities to
regulate scope and mechanism of other kinds of cooperation, where the resident-led arrange-
ments nd a legal space to be taken into consideration. is emphasizes the dominance of
national organs vis-à-vis the private sector, but also allows for negotiation in the decision-
making process and strengthens the police service15 as the coagulating agent of policing part-
nerships in Nairobi.
A last note on the dominating role of the police in security narratives comes from a quick
reference to other neighborhoods of Nairobi. e role we attribute to the police service as the
coagulating agent of security provision partnerships is speci c to those relatively wealthy neigh-
borhoods we conducted our research in. However, a general dominance of the police is vis-
ible throughout Nairobi, albeit in markedly di erent ways. In some poor urban settlements,
for instance (Price et al. 2016), security provision by the police is acknowledged and at times
strategically sought a er, but police are also considered a threat to personal security (van Stapele
2016) because of extortion practices, extrajudicial killings, and violence perpetrated in these
In this article, we have tried to understand the role of the state police in policing partnerships
in Nairobi, Kenya, in relation to private security companies and residents’ associations. We have
detailed the state police as a coagulating agent, an actor that congregates policing partnerships
in particular areas of Nairobi, and we base this assertion on the ethnographic eldwork we con-
ducted in Kenya between 2014 and 2016.
By drawing from work on policing partnerships outside of Africa that generally stresses the
presence of a centralizing and steering state apparatus, we argue that several non-state security
providers take on a “junior partner” role during their encounters with the Kenya Police Ser-
vice. However, this is not a straightforward relationship. As an underequipped armed force with
limited resources that is o en considered corrupt and ill trained, there is also room for nego-
tiation with the police in setting the conditions of the various security arrangements. In fact,
our empirical material shows how the relations are not smooth and unproblematic but rather
characterized by friction and frustration.
In our research, we therefore identify signs of the “junior partner” model, yet we o er two
propositions for further (conceptual) expansion. e rst is for the model to allow for multiple
actors who are able to in uence the partnerships between the police and the private security
20 ! Francesco Colona and Tessa Diphoorn
companies. In our case, the residents and their associations and assets are weaved through the
various policing partnerships, both directly and indirectly. Residents of middle- and upper-
class neighborhoods can tap into their economic resources to e ectively supplement the police
o cers’ salaries and provide infrastructure to the police stations. By doing so, residents essen-
tially “buy” more attentive and extra security services for their neighborhoods, both from the
private security companies and from the police. is process reinforces the junior-senior dis-
tinction between private security companies and police, yet it also further complicates the orig-
inal dyadic relation that the “junior partner” model suggests by showing the police’s need for
Second, we argue that the three collective actors we focused on in this article are all in a
mutual and dynamic relationship, yet not in an equal one. In the context of Nairobi, the mod-
ern state, both as a system and as an idea (Abrams 2006), remains as a crucial actor and not
simply as a source of authority among many. Its relevance is paramount for the security o cers
and the residents of the city, making the security state apparatus, and the police in particular,
a key actor. Here we do not want to reproduce Eurocentric policing models; instead, we situ-
ate the Kenyan state—with its speci c peculiarities—within a genealogical relationship to the
archetypical Westphalian model. us, we highlight that policing partnerships in Kenya are
not the result of a “failing” and “weak” state, which o en still is the dominant explanation in
the literature on African policing. Rather, we have identi ed the state as a coagulating agent
that must be supported to perform its primary role of security provider through assistance
from other non-state actors, a position that is being reinforced by the recent Private Security
is research is part of the project SECURCIT: “Transforming Citizenship through Hybrid
Governance: e Impacts of Public-Private Security Assemblages” at the University of Amster-
dam, funded by the European Research Council. We are mostly very grateful to all the people in
Nairobi who welcomed us and shared their life experiences and insights.
! FRANCESCO COLONA is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam. He is a member
of the research team studying “Transforming Citizenship through Hybrid Governance: e
Impacts of Public-Private Security Assemblages” in ve di erent cities: Kingston (Jamaica),
Recife (Brazil), Miami (USA), Jerusalem (Israel) and Nairobi (Kenya). In his own research
in Nairobi, he tries to understand—ethnographically—how citizenship and access to (or
targeting from) security is recon gured in hybrid forms of security governance. In his
study he also explore how security technologies and political subjectivities are reciprocally
de ned in Nairobi.
! TESSA DIPHOORN is Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at
Utrecht University. She has conducted extensive ethnographic research about private secu-
rity in South Africa and is the author of Twilight Policing: Private Security and Violence in
Urban South Africa (University of California Press, 2016).She is now working on a new
research project that analyzes the regulation of police (mis)conduct in Kenya.
“Eyes, Ears, and Wheels” ! 21
1. e names of neighborhoods, companies, and informants are all anonymized.
2. In Nairobi, the st is o en a hand gesture for the number ve.
3. Although there has also been tremendous insight from other scholarly disciplines, this article pri-
marily engages with anthropological studies.
4. Such e orts are still visible in the contemporary Kenyan state, as the recent Private Security Regula-
tion Act of May 2016 seeks to rea rm the state apparatus as the dominant actor of security narratives
in Kenya. is Act also con rms the state security apparatuses as the sole institution allowed to carry
rearms. See later in this article for a detailed discussion.
5. is idea is also aligned to David Osborne and Ted Gaebler’s (1992) usage of the metaphors “rowing”
and “steering,” whereby the state “steers” other bodies to “row” in a particular direction.
6. Interview, 14 March 2015, conducted together by both authors.
7. Before the mid-2000s, companies were allowed to use sirens and bulletproof vests. is rapidly
changed when the then Inspector General of the police, Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali,
banned their use for private security companies and dictated that their uniforms had to adhere to a
particular format and color.
8. e AP replaced in 1958 the “tribal police” (originally established in 1929), regarded as a political tool
to support provincial administrations and chiefs. Currently it consists of three di erent units (and
thus three core tasks): the Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU), the Rural Border Patrol Unit (RBPU), and
the Security of Government Buildings (SGB). e RP, which has acted as the main state police agent,
has always been engaged in more traditional policing duties, such as crime prevention and investi-
gations. Currently, the RP comprises numerous units, such as the General Service Unit (GSU), the
tra c police, the Diplomatic Police Unit (DPU), and many more, each with a di erent mandate.
9. Interview, board member of one of the employers’ associations, 26 July 2016.
10. Interview, 3 August 2016, owner of a private security company.
11. In Swahili, this literally means “10 houses” and is based on small operational units of few houses.
12. Again, we recognize here that in other neighborhoods of Nairobi, such as Mathare, Kibera, or East-
leigh, other non-state actors are also operative. However, we did not identify such actors in the neigh-
borhoods where we conducted our eldwork (for a more detailed discussion on these, see Price et al.
13. We are excluding from this account individual rearm holders, which, albeit low in numbers, are on
a steep increase.
14. During our eldwork, we also heard many accounts of police personnel “hiring their guns out” to
criminals and thugs.
15. Article 2 of section VI of the Private Security Regulation Act provides that this decision will be made
by the cabinet secretary, the inspector general of the Kenya Police Service, and the Authority. Such
Authority is a body corporate established with the Private Security Regulation Act and is mandated
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