Five ways to protect your business from civil unrest

Protests in Kenya are synonymous with violence and looting

In Summary

• Whenever riots occur, emergency services get stretched, hence precautions are key

Business remain closed on Digo Road over the anti-Finance Bill protests in Mombasa on Tuesday
Business remain closed on Digo Road over the anti-Finance Bill protests in Mombasa on Tuesday

It's almost a given that street protests in Kenya will degenerate into a spectre of violence, looting and loss of lives. Modern democracies encourage the expressions of public anger but criminal elements often exploit the formation of large crowds to engage in robbery that severely hits retail outlets.

What should business owners do? If there's advance knowledge of possible riots, it is safer to stay closed until calm is restored.

That said, violence can sometimes erupt spontaneously even on a normal day. One moment, things are calm. The next moment, pandemonium breaks out, with people fleeing in all directions.

Whenever riots occur, the relevant public services (police, fire, health care, ambulance services) get stretched to breaking point. No single business or individual is likely to get a quick response from emergency services during civil unrest.

Private security guards do not have the means to stop a large-scale attack on a business. Even if armed, there's little a single guard can do when confronted by hundreds of rowdy individuals carrying crude weapons. All these realities mean that business owners should take stronger measures to protect their property in case riots erupt.

1. Stay informed: Have up-to-date information on developments in your locality. When chaos erupts, assess your state of vulnerability. Consult local administrators to judge whether it is safe to remain open for business.

2. Remove dangerous items: Remove anything, such as flammable substances, that could be used against your business premises. Secure any hardware rioters may use to force their way into your premises.

3. Install protective structures: Grills, metal doors and unbreakable glass are some of the most common measures businesses in vulnerable areas such as town centres have used over the years to keep out looters, or at least slow them down.

4. Build good social relations: Not all rioting is national in nature; some can be over local grievances. You can build goodwill in your locality through good business relations with the community and getting involved in community development.

5. Get insurance: If you operate in a place that’s vulnerable to riots, explore which insurance packages would be suitable for your business. Once enrolled, you will be required to pay a regular premium to qualify for compensation in case the event for which you are insured occurs. Insurance premiums are payable monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or annually, depending on the requirements of the insurance provider.

Tragically, many businesses affected by riots are not insured, which forces the owners to get money from other sources to repair the damage. The Institute of Economic Affairs says that the uptake of insurance services among Kenyans remains low because insurance premiums are perceived as expensive.

In addition, there is a general lack of awareness of insurance products. IEA blames this situation on insurance brokers being quick to sell insurance policies without helping customers understand the contracts. When the customers eventually file claims, insurance companies are slow to pay, which has contributed to a negative public perception that the industry is not entirely straightforward.

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