WASHINGTON -- Nairobi sits in one of the world's tougher neighborhoods -- that's clear from the recent attack on the Westgate mall. But the security contractor hired by the State Department to keep Americans there safe may not exactly be world-class. The company protecting the U.S. embassy in Nairobi pays its guards as little as a dollar per hour. In fact, those guards were so poorly compensated by their employer, KK Security, that last summer they went on strike.
Who and how America defends its diplomatic posts has become an enormous issue in the year since the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. The local guard force hired by the American government to protect the place fled during the fighting. And those guards were paid $4 per hour -- about four times what their counterparts in Kenya are getting.
And while Nairobi is booming economically, it can still be an extremely dangerous place. Western governments have warned of the high risk of terrorist attacks in Kenya for more than a year prior to last weekend's terrorist assault on a Nairobi shopping mall. It was an incident in Kenya by which most Americans first learned of al-Qaida after the organization bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998.
KK Security boasts that it pays Nairobi embassy guards between 25,000 and 150,000 Kenyan shillings per month -- the equivalent of $787 to $1,715. That's roughly $9 to $57 U.S. dollars a day for that potentially deadly job.
At the low end, it's roughly the same as what the average Kenyan makes. However, it wasn't enough to keep KK employees from walking off the job last June in a strike that "disrupted security" at the embassy, according to the African news site The People.
The People reports that KK guards' wages were closer to $2 to $4 per day when they went on strike. The firm was also accused of withholding wages that had been agreed to in a labor agreement from the last decade.
KK Security did not respond to requests to comment for this story. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not reply to queries about the firm by press time.
KK, formerly known as Kenya Kazi Security, has been paid tens of millions of dollars from the U.S. State Department to provide security to American diplomats in Nairobi over the last decade.
Founded in the 1990s, accodrding to its website, KK bills itself as a one-stop shop for anything security- and safety-related across Central and East Africa. It does everything from guarding U.N. agencies in Tanzania to protecting oil and gas installations on the continent. In addition to providing security guards, KK provides a slew of technologies ranging from biometric identification tools and automatic license plate scanners to software that tracks money being sent around the continent.
The blue chip clients listed on KK's website include the U.S. State Department, the British High Commission, the Canadian government, the EU, the U.N., Sheraton Hotels, Alcatel, Toyota and even Heineken.