In 2005 a small team of former British army officers who were living in Kenya set up a risk consultancy firm in East Africa. The firm provided specialised risk mitigation and protection services to private and public enterprises operating in the more challenging environments of countries throughout the region.
Specifically, the firm serviced international clients operating in Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan and Djibouti, as well as ship owners concerned about providing security against attacks by Somali pirates, who were terrorising the crews of ships traveling through the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
In 2012, Rob Andrew, one of the original founding members from 2005, formed Newport Africa Limited to focus on servicing the oil and gas corporations who were expanding their activities throughout the region both onshore and offshore. The company provides other service offerings ranging from assisting corporations in the fight against illicit trade activities, to providing crisis response and security information to corporates throughout a difficult region.
From its small roots, starting with two men in 2005, the company now has 48 full-time employees, as well as more than 150 consultants deployed in projects across the region. Newport Africa (Kenya) Limited is the Kenyan subsidiary, with one expatriate leading a team of more than 20 Kenyans managing projects within the country’s borders, as well as employing a large number of local and some international consultants employed on specific oil and gas projects.
The parent company looks after international interests outside Kenya and has a small team of Kenyans and internationals. Then there is a small team that runs the offshore Oil and Gas Operations side of the business, which is operated out of Mombasa. Another business unit provides business assurance services and is managed by two people who collectively have many years of experience within the region. They provide services including IT forensics, data recoveries and electronic sweeps and can assist a new international entrant coming into East Africa them through the start-up processes to ensure that they’re meeting with appropriate lawyers and accountants so as to get the correct licenses and negotiate the hurdles of complying with all local regulations.
Newport Africa is a signatory to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Companies, which means the company has pledged to maintain extremely high standards in terms of training, pay and insurance for its consultants and the utmost integrity and reliability with its clients.
“What makes us stand out from our competitors is the quality of our international staff,” says Rob Andrew, managing director of Newport Africa. “They are all experienced and come from the security sector and most have made a commitment to this region. They are not fly-by-nights. They tend to have a deep understanding of the region and excellent contacts. We’re not an organisation run by 30-year-olds fresh out of an operational tour in Afghanistan. We are mostly in the 40+ domain with a lot of previous experience and a desire to be here and make things work.”
Risk is industry-agnostic
Andrew says the company’s very first contract was in the oil and gas sector providing security consultancy services to protect an oil rig drilling off the Kenya/Somali coast at a time of severe instability in South Somalia. “We were basically looking after the rig while Ethiopian military forces were fighting with Islamists,” says Andrew, shedding light on some of the unexpected civil unrest that occurs in the region.
With oil and gas industry exploration activities booming in East Africa, it’s no surprise that this is where Newport Africa is finding a large proportion of its current clientele and business. However, the company also offers risk audits, security consultancy, corporate security, covert investigations and protection services for other industries, such as precious metals mining and refining, fast moving consumer goods, transnational corporations, commodity transportation, infrastructure development and the hospitality industry.
Newport Africa has also provided security and location assistance to the entertainment industry looking to film in Eastern Africa, offering everything from on-the-ground movie production security services, continuous monitoring of threat risks and identifying potential challenges while assisting in the maintenance of positive relations with local communities.
An atypical project might be something like touring a very wealthy, multi-millionaire businessman and his family around Mogadishu, Somalia for the day.
Andrew says this is exactly the type of project Newport Africa was approached with almost a year ago when his company ended up providing 30 guards to protect a man and his family touring through refugee camps, fish markets and the local beach.
Andrew describes how there was a note of surprise in the negotiation process when he proposed needing 30 guards for such a task, being asked: “Don’t you think it’s over the top?”
But due to the increased risk in the region at that time Andrew could propose no less. The client came back in 10 minutes to confirm the terms of the agreement, realising that when it comes to one’s safety, you can never be too prepared, especially when in tumultuous times in dangerous locations.
When Andrew and his team of consultants begin working with clients, the process starts with a very detailed risk assessment.
“We build it first and go back to the client and adjust it as needed since their perception and requirements may be quite different to what we factored in,” explains Andrew. “We work together to assemble the most cost-effective risk mitigation solution.”
And depending on the job and the state of the region at the time, the assessments can be quite different. For example, Newport Africa’s first seismic job used four vessels and 24 consultants. The next one used three vessels and 15 consultants, simply because the risk had reduced over the three months between the two projects. “Risk assessment is fundamental to what we’re doing,” says Andrew.
When it comes to onsite security contracts, Andrew is clear to state that almost everything Newport Africa does is unarmed. And if there are scenarios that require armed security the company will either contract the local security forces, like the Kenya Police Reserve or Somali military and police forces or act as a liaison body between their client and government organisations to take on those roles.
“Any armed security that we supply always comes with the local security organisations,” he says.
The company also provides daily regional briefs and SMS alerts to its clients, providing them with instant updates should something unexpected occur like pop-up protests or a bomb going off.
He adds: “Some clients even have tracking in their vehicle, so if we notice any clients going into these danger areas, we’ll call them and re-direct them.”
Risk is one of those elements you can’t always expect. But you can certainly prepare for it, especially when tapping into the years of experience and insights carried by the team at Newport Africa.
Currently in Kenya elections are coming up on 4 March and Andrew says they’re already beginning to see some of the effects from the violence around the country. If this activity escalates, there is risk of severing vital supply lines within the country, but also those going out into the region. Escalated violence could cut off major routes, so products trying to get from the Kenyan port to Uganda and Rwanda will be stuck, and vice versa for those trying to get to the port.
Supply chain management could be affected.
Furthermore, certain areas around Kenya have unusually high crime rates because “the have-nots exceed those who have,” says Andrew. So things such as petty crime, theft, kidnapping and hijacking of vehicles are commonplace.
If you go into rural areas, risk can increase because some of those residents tend to have access to weapons such as AK-47s. In addition, there is increased risk of getting caught in a tribal conflict if one cattle herder decides to take over a neighbouring tribe’s land for water and grass when his own runs out.
There is also risk of terrorism in the region, with growing threats from Islamist militant groups such as Al-Shabaab – who have been making international headlines lately – as well as offshore threats such as piracy. “However, those have been on a downward trend as of late,” says Andrew.
“This is why it all starts with a risk assessment, so you can be more focused,” he explains. “We’ve got a team of analysts who are watching these emerging trends and making sense of them. The whole thing is underpinned because we really understand what is going on. So when the client panics, we don’t have to.”
Newport Africa has been in a constant state of expansion since its inception, and this year has plans to expand its operations in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia.
As the opportunity arises, Andrew would like to see Newport Africa expand beyond its current territory.
“We would like to have more than the occasional flirtation with Western and Southern Africa. But we do recognise East Africa is in our DNA,” he says, while sharing the fact that he is seeking contacts to help the company kick-start activities in those regions.
Newport Africa’s success in the region is truly dependent on its team of consultants and their understanding of all the intricate relationships, events and constantly evolving societal nuances. This is why Newport’s continued growth and competitive edge lies in its people.
“There is a strong demand for local content. We are always looking for locals, such as a Kenyan or Somali, who will eventually take over the job,” says Andrew.
“While the face of it looks very much like an expatriate operation, we know that to have long-term momentum and traction, we need to have more of an African flavour than we currently have.”
He describes: “In scenarios where we’ve got two consultants on vessels, we’ll have one Kenyan – just as well-trained and prepared – as well as one expatriate.
He will have a very different upbringing to us but has been trained by us in the last five years. What this does is help break the cultural barriers between the expatriate consultants and the Kenyan military. That’s special to us and has done really well for us.”