A recent photo of a male bodyguard of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki carrying her handbag that went viral on social media and stirred public debate has summed up some of the difficulties security men attached to VIPs have to ensure.
As if that was not enough, a similar a picture of bodyguard to Cabinet Secretary for Defence Raychelle Omamo carrying her handbag as they walked has also emerged, further exposing the life of a VIP bodyguard.
The two instances have left many with questions, What exactly is the role of a VIP security man?
“That is normal,” says one bodyguard, speaking of being subjected to carrying handbags. “She could be in a meeting and she whispers to you asking you to go and pick her humongous handbag from the vehicle. You will have to carry that bag in front of other men” a security man to a Kenyan VIP told the Nation, but declined to be named.
In most cases VIP bodyguards are usually police officers assigned to Members of Parliament, Cabinet Secretaries, Senators, Governors and other senior government officials.
Job description of a bodyguards states that he is supposed to report at work by 8am and their day end at 5pm. Their job is simple: Protect the VIP, ensure their security which extends to taking a bullet for your VIP.
It is not , however, a reality, the eight-to-five job situation is only in paper. Rarely will bodyguard freed by their VIP at 5pm. Most of the time, they finds themselves seated in a traffic jam, probably ferrying the boss to an evening meeting at an exclusive members’ club, sometimes until after midnight, with a stomachs growling in hunger as bosses enjoy VIP meals at 5 star hotels.
“They misuse us a lot,” says another bodyguard who has been on the job for six years. “In the evening, we come from Parliament and drive them to a popular joint along Lenana Road (Nairobi). They will drink whisky until 2am and come to the car drunk. As you drive them home, they begin to quarrel asking ‘why are you driving so fast?’”
“We become their punching bags. You see all that stress they take in, they take it out on us. Some become very abusive,” says another bodyguard.
Gilgil MP-elect Martha Wangari who was in the 11th Parliament as a Nominated Senator described bodyguard's work “ethically wrong and disgusting”.
“It’s a no-go zone for me. It is even weird for a man to carry a handbag. If a VIP wants someone to carry a handbag they should have a female personal assistant.
It should not happen; bodyguards are for protecting their charges not carrying handbags,” she said.
A universal complaint among the bodyguards of VIPs confessed verbal and physical abusive. A bodyguard of a North Eastern Kenya narrated how the MP went into a violent rage, hitting the bodyguard on the thigh asking him “Who told you I wanted to go to Parliament?”, this was after he drove the MP to parliament following a heated television debate with a fellow MP.
“It hurt when she used to insult me. Sometimes she would lash out at me and call me ‘stupid’, which hurt my ego, particularly when I had to go home to my wife and children,” says the bodyguard.
Police spokesman Charles Owino sees nothing wrong with bodyguards carrying handbags.
“Let us not perpetuate discrimination against women. If the same police officers carry briefcases for men why then can’t they carry handbags for women? If you can guard someone’s body what is wrong carrying a bag?” he said.
“It is not anywhere in police regulation on what you do with your boss. If an individual police officer is of the opinion he can carry a handbag for one reason or another that is his own choice. There is nothing wrong,” he added.
“The life of a bodyguard is characterized by hunger. The bosses go into a meeting and forget you. We survive on milk and bread as we wait for them to return, smelling of meat and alcohol,” says another bodyguard who has been attached to a female MP.
A bodyguard of a senator who has since been elected governor narrated the ordeal after he made a gross mistake and ate on the then MP’s account at a five-star hotel.
“He was livid. He asked me, ‘Who told you to eat on my account?’ Some of these VIPs are very mean,” he says.
“Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!”
From dropping the VIPs children to school after missing the school bus, to taking the VIPs house-help to the posho mill to have maize sifted, to going to book rooms for the bosses’ secret rendezvous are some of the difficulties a bodyguard has to stomach.
“I used to work for an MP who was a well-known sex predator,” says one. “I was required to approach the girl he had identified on his behalf, " another security man said.
Some pass away while protecting their VIPs, a recent classical example is Mbita MP-elect Millie Odhiambo's bodyguard, who was killed by armed goons while on a campaign trail.