Kenyan companies are preparing their staff for the unexpected during the August 8 elections, even as they invest heavily in campaigns for credible and peaceful polls.
More than 10 big corporations had by the end of last week taken their employees through safety and emergency response drills ahead of the hotly contested elections.
The preparations, which signal corporate Kenya’s discomfort with the build-up of tension around the polls, have seen some companies map out the election violence hotspots — complete with what employees working in those areas should do in the event of a breakdown in law and order.
Some of the companies have developed extensive strategies to secure their assets – including buildings and company motor vehicles – as part of risk mitigation.
Security agencies have identified parts of the Rift Valley, Coast, Nairobi, Kiambu and Kisumu as potential hotspots.
“We have put in place elaborate operation plans to be executed by security agencies,” Interior Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho told the Daily Nation recently.
“From the security point of view, we are paying a lot of attention to the elections.”
Religious leaders and election observers have also warned of possible violence in the event of a contested outcome of the polls, and called on political leaders to tone down rhetoric and security agencies to enhance vigilance.
In case of chaos
But even as the government seeks to assure citizens of increased security before and after the election, companies have stepped up internal mitigation processes to safeguard staff and property in the event of chaos.
Habil Olaka, the chief executive of the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA), said the lobby had formed a committee that is drafting a response and escalation manual to be shared with its members ahead of election day.
The manual will detail what bank employees should do during and after the election, including tips on how to keep their families safe and keep communication lines open with employers.
“While we hope and pray that the election passes without incident, the manual we are developing will provide a mechanism to handle any eventuality, including escalation processes in case something happens,” Mr Olaka said in an interview.
“Banking halls handle a lot of cash and, in case of any disturbance, they are normally an easy target. The protocol we are preparing will detail how to secure our premises during the period.”
Bamburi Cement #ticker:BAMB, a leading manufacturer, recently issued an “election security awareness” alert to staff instructing them to service their vehicles, stock up food supplies and purchase extra airtime before the polls.
The document, which the firm encouraged be shared widely with relatives and friends, also advised employees to safeguard important documents such as title deeds and passports as well as back up personal data.
Some telecoms operators last week initiated security training sessions, advising staff to, among other things, stock up on supplies that can last a month.
One of the firms has also promised to ferry employees to and from work during the election time, something it does not do at the moment.
Trace Limited, a security solutions firm based in Mombasa, cautioned employees against carrying huge amounts of cash, to avoid reckless comments at their polling stations, have a doctor’s number at hand and not to stay out late.
“One of the ways to stay secure during elections is by returning home after casting your vote,” global security company G4S said in its latest brief to staff and clients.
“It is vital to store up the house with all the foodstuff and ingredients that are needed so as to avoid incessant outings to the markets and malls. If after the elections your candidate wins, celebrate in a civil manner.”
Months to the 2007/2008 elections, which turned bloody, companies pre-emptively rushed to protect their businesses by purchasing political violence insurance.
Tom Gichuhi, the CEO of the Association of Kenyan Insurers (AKI), says that while they have not conducted a study for this year he expects a “small spike in uptake”, adding that this is “not uncommon” during an electioneering period.
The African Trade Insurance Agency (ATI) says the lower uptake of political violence covers this year is because “people have felt that this election is much safer than 2007.”
Credendo, a Belgium-based insurance company, ranks Kenya’s political violence risk at five out of 10, at par with countries such as Uganda, Egypt and Mozambique.
States like Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa rank better than Kenya while Somalia, Ethiopia, Congo and Sudan are on the worse off side of the scale, which also considers terrorism risks.