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Exploration boom creates a well-oiled security sector


OVER ARMED, OVER THERE: Kenyan police last week found explosives after a series of raids on three mosques in Mombasa, Kenya. They arrested more than 150 people suspected of being supporters of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab

OVER ARMED, OVER THERE: Kenyan police last week found explosives after a series of raids on three mosques in Mombasa, Kenya. They arrested more than 150 people suspected of being supporters of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab

OVER ARMED, OVER THERE: Kenyan police last week found explosives after a series of raids on three mosques in Mombasa, Kenya. They arrested more than 150 people suspected of being supporters of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab

Irish security consultants have struck gold in east Africa as a growing number of multinational firms involved in the region's booming exploration sector are turning to them for advice on how to protect their operations and staff from terror attacks, tribal conflict and widespread corruption.

One year on from the Westgate Mall attack that killed more than 65 people in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, threat levels from the likes of al-Qaeda-backed militant group al-Shabaab and feuding warlords remain high in the region.

Oil and gas firms remain on constant alert, as Kenya's booming petroleum industry is a likely target for future terror attacks.

"The private security industry here is beyond most people's comprehension," said veteran Irish security expert Terry Hayden.

Hayden, who has worked in Africa for the past seven years advising foreign multinationals, is the founder of Senaca Group - one of the world's biggest security firms, which employs over 3,000 staff across Kenya and Uganda. He now works as a security and business consultant based near Nairobi.

"In Kenya alone, an estimated 250,000 security officers are deployed. The sector is in a stage of exponential growth, not just in Kenya but across the region.

"The exponential growth opportunities that abound across the region are so abundant that, in many ways, it is frontier land."

But an inevitable consequence for global oil and gas firms as they move into 'frontier' zones in search of valuable resources is the security risk from operating in some of the world's most dangerous conflict zones.

Tullow Oil, the global exploration firm founded by Irishman Adrian Heavey, is at the forefront of drilling in Kenya's 'oil frontier'.

Two years ago, Tullow discovered oil in Kenya's north-west Turkana County.

Describing the security situation that multinational exploration firms such as Tullow face in east Africa as "dynamic", Hayden insists that the "unique risks must be balanced against the unprecedented exponential growth opportunities across the region".

Indeed, the rewards can be hugely lucrative. Tullow has hit the jackpot in Kenya. It is seeking to finalise appraisal and testing of an estimated 600 million barrels of oil resources at its Turkana drills by the end of 2015 - and it could be sitting on a potential find of 1 billion barrels.

But, equally, the security risks are ever present for multinational firms.

Clonmel-based engineering giant Kentz and Tullow Oil, both with massive operations in east Africa and track records of investment and good relations in the region, have both seen at close quarters just how "dynamic" the security situation has become in recent months.

In February last year, Irishman Will Deasy, an engineer working for Kentz at Kenmare Resources' Moma plant in Mozambique, was murdered by bandits, reportedly for the cash he was carrying to pay local workers.

Deasy (32) was beaten to death after a suspected carjacking.

Kentz declined to answer questions about the precise circumstances of the attack. But in a statement the firm said: "The precise details of the attack that led to Mr Deasy's death are still being established by the police authorities and until these investigations are complete it would be inappropriate for the company to comment."

Just two months after that tragedy, in April last year, Kentz had to airlift Mozambican riot police by private plane to quell a violent protest by hundreds of construction workers at a mine in northern Mozambique.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Kenya, Tullow Oil had to suspend drilling operations in Turkana for two weeks last year after protests by locals demanding more jobs and business opportunities at the drilling sites.

Analysts and oil and gas industry insiders say such incidents typify the rising tensions between multinationals and local communities.

Last week Tullow Oil stepped up efforts to ease tensions between the company and Turkana residents by awarding €2m worth of car-lease contracts to 36 local companies.

Tullow has also held talks with the local community and the government to avert similar protests.

Tullow Oil declined to be interviewed about its security arrangements.

Noel Whelan, a security consultant with the Irish-based group International Anti and Counter Terrorism Training Specialists, has made a career out of advising multinationals, governments and international agencies on how to minimise threats to their operations in conflict zones.

"Where I see the terror threat impacting hugely is oil fields," said Whelan. "There is a huge demand for private security companies in Africa and more and more multinational firms are seeking our advice on how to secure critical infrastructure and power stations. That demand is going to get even greater over the next few years."

However, it's not just finding oil that is a risky business, exporting it carries massive security risks too.

If Tullow's Turkana wells prove to be commercially viable, the company plans to build a 850km export pipeline from the northwest of the country to the Kenyan coast. That means crossing north Kenya, a region close to Somalia where Islamist militant group al-Shabaab is active and where violence between rival tribal groups is common.

John McCormack, an analyst covering sub-Saharan Africa for research and consulting firm GlobalData, says Kenya's oil industry needs better security.

"Although the attack on the Westgate Mall is likely to have a minimal impact on the overall pace of Kenya's oil and gas operations, most international oil companies will have to invest in security. Additionally, there will also be a heightened risk of damage to oil and gas infrastructure, such as pipelines. These are particularly difficult to secure from Somali militants," he said.

Another Irish security firm making a splash in east Africa is Glenevin.

Glenevin has advised the likes of Tullow, Kentz and Diageo and has just completed a €5m contract advising Uganda's government.

With offices in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, Glenevin is in the elite ranks of the global security sector. Founded by three former Irish Army Rangers, the firm is unique in that it's not a 'muscle for hire' firm. It advises governments on international reputation management and security issues.

Glenevin boss Joe Ryan says his firm prefers to work "below the radar".

"Most governments who take us on don't advertise it," he says.

Ryan founded Glenevin five years ago with his business partners Leo Harris and Jonathan Pim and since then the firm has been linked to lucrative government contracts in Nigeria, South Sudan and Uganda.

"The fact that we're Irish opens doors for us," said Ryan.

Sunday Indo Business