Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Maintaining security under tough conditions
Meagre wages and tough working conditions in many security organisations may prompt negligence and misconduct among private guards
From one of the top offices on Crested Towers, a blue figure paces up and down as he controls the traffic coming in and out of the parking area. Radiocall in hand, this security guard hardly has time to take a rest at his wooden seat on the right hand side of the gate. Static can be heard regularly from his handset.Perhaps it's another comrade somewhere trying to cheat the boredom out of the gruelling routine of security guard work by reaching out. But for this particular guard, it seems it's duty first and no distractions. He maintains an expression that makes it hard to decipher his emotions. Neatly dressed in a nicely pressed blue outfit complete with a cap, belt and a pair of black shinny shoes. It's close to dusk when I call on him but in fact, his day had just begun. This week, he will be working on the night shift, which starts at 4:30p.m. till 7 o'clock in the morning. If he has to work on the day shift, then he’s required to report to duty by 7a.m and leave his station at 4:30p.m. Onega (not real name) is employed by one of the more successful security companies. His normal day starts at 6a.m. He hardly has the time to fix himself a cup of tea at home and hits the road. Having no money to pay for his travel, he has to walk up to his designated duty station wherever it may be. At a brisk pace, it takes him half an hour to get to his current work place. He says he has to make sure he is at the station a few minutes to 7a.m., before his supervisors can make an inspection and dully allocate him the workstation for the day. He has to sign in on reaching the deployment centre. This fairly defines the routine Onega has gone through for the last year he has served as a guard. He says he was enrolled on February 18th, 2005. Onega resides in Nsambya where he rents a one-roomed house. He enrolled as a guard having learnt about it from his brother who is a police superintendent. In his mid-30s, Onega does not take alcohol. Our conversation is interrupted every now and then as he continues to manage the cars coming in and leaving. Crested Towers, he says, is quite busy because it’s home to many big offices including Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) offices, Stanbic bank, MTN and popular entertainment spots like the Grand Casino, Blue Africa bar, and Boldwin's café.
Challenging jobBut despite the high-class surroundings he guards, Onega can only afford supper and has to forego breakfast and lunch. He has a wife and two children to look after in his village. So he has to make sure he effectively splits his meagre salary to cover up all his responsibilities. He says he’s paid Shs90,000. "However, there are those places where we work and out of goodwill, the clients provide us with lunch at least," he chips in. It is because of the high cost of living in the city that he chose to leave his family in the village. As he works though, one thing he confesses stays on his mind is his family.In the line of duty, he points out some of the other challenges he has faced. One is staying awake at night despite the boredom, the cold especially during the wee hours of the night, not forgetting the mosquito bites. Armed with a baton (carries no gun), he says he sometimes has to face off with "big shots" that demand parking space at night despite the restrictions. "The parking here is partitioned for the respective offices but during the night, we go through harassment by some people who expect us to work against orders simply because sometimes they are driving cars with government number plates or because they are 'big'," he says. These are usually visitors to the Grand Casino. As a guard, Onega has worked in places as far as Hoima (on Lake Albert) where he guarded the oil explorer Hardman's Project premises. Apart from the rather cold atmosphere there, malaria was another threat. "Being near a water body, it had lots of mosquitoes. I worked during the night and for fear of contracting malaria, I had to spend most of the time in the unit box," he reveals. He had gone with a light sweater provided by the company but later realised he needed a heavier coat. Now, unlike some employees, Onega has no allowances to fallback on given that his employers do not give him any allowances and it's entirely upon him to wisely budget his expenditure. "In case you fall sick, they (the employers) will give you some money to go to hospital then slice it off your salary at the end of the month." Onega has also guarded places like Lonrho Motors and House of Eden both in Industrial area, AON Insurance company on plot 25 along John Akibua road and Rwenzori Courts.
Barely equippedSurprisingly, he has not had to use his baton in all the places he has guarded and confesses that God must have been on his side throughout. He also attributes this to the seemingly secure areas he has been assigned to guard. However, he points out that where security is compromised, he is required to call in a "quick reaction" team of colleagues who carry guns. He works every day of the week but says Saturday is his favourite day and so he cannot afford to skip lunch. He celebrates it by buying himself a bowl of rice and meat. Soon, he will be given a month's leave during which he plans to visit his family after almost two years. He is very excited about this.For now though, Onega feels guarding will remain his best option for work because he "did not go far with his studies."


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