Uhuru Kenyatta's presidential limousine

Kenyans are spending millions to acquire bulletproof luxury vehicles.

The upward trend of crime, particularly in posh neighbourhoods, is pushing the who-is-who in the country to take charge of their own security.

What was previously a preserve of the wealthy and top-notch politicians seems to have attracted a new type of clientele; celebrities, businesspeople, little-known politicians and well to do Kenyans.

Dealers in armoured vehicles, such as Nabeel Joz, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai-based Joz Group, says their business has become lucrative owing to the rising levels of insecurity in the country.

“Insecurity opened new markets in Kenya. It’s been barely two years, yet people are buying these vehicles in large numbers. I can predict that there is a promising market for armoured vehicles in Kenya,” Joz said.

According to Joz, the company has sold over 1,000 luxury vehicles in the country. That is besides military vehicles, cash-in-transit vehicles and police cars.

“These vehicles are all over, but you can hardly notice them because they look like any other car on the streets. It is obvious that many of the owners don’t want to attract unnecessary attention as that may further compromise their security. That’s why details of our clients remain confidential,” Joz told The Nairobian.

Security analyst Mwenda Mbijiwe says that though the security situation in the country has not deteriorated to the point that would require everyone to drive an armoured vehicle, the cars are a necessity in parts of the country prone to gun attacks. He attributes the demand for bulletproof vehicles to rising gun-related crime.

“Our homeland security infrastructure has failed over the last two decades. Kenyans, especially the movers and shakers of our economy, know the important role they play in society and naturally opt to enhance their security,” said Mbijiwe. Because of the failure to provide the citizenry with sufficient and reliable security, those who can afford it are investing in their own security systems.

Joz says their vehicles are built such that armouring does not alter a vehicle’s appearance or draw unnecessary attention. Apart from protection at point of attack, the other basic features of armoured vehicles include evading, escaping and sometimes engaging in counterattack.

Armouring is done in different levels. There is the B4 level, which mainly protects against small arms with bullet velocities of 440 metres per second (m/s) and impact energy of 1,510 joules. The B6 level can shield occupants from AK47 attacks or other artillery with bullet speeds of 830m/s and impact energy of 3,270 joules. This is the most recommended type of armour for high-profile figures.

Then there is the B7, recommended for presidential vehicles. This level of armouring shields occupants from attacks using powerful weapons with impact energy of 3,290 joules and bullet velocities of 820m/s.

 

“Armouring depends on the level of protection and security of our customers. The appropriate vehicles are those with engine capacities exceeding 3,000cc. The process of armouring a vehicle takes four to five weeks,” reveals Joz.

To have these levels of protection in the comfort of their top-of-the-range vehicles, Kenyans are spending up to Sh10 million or more. Joz discloses that armouring a car for B4 level may cost around $55,000 (Sh4.8 million); B6 armouring costs about $65,000 (Sh5.7 million), while B7 armouring costs in excess of $100,000 (Sh8.9 million).

 Bullet-proofing absorbs a bullet’s energy to stop it.

Bullet-resistant materials, also known as ballistic materials, could be rigid or supple. Some like the Kevlar, Lexan and Carbon fibre composite materials are complex, while others like steel and titanium are simple.

Armouring a vehicle’s body is largely done using steel or titanium, which are hard metals. But it is bulletproof glass that is interesting.

Basically, bullet resistant glass is made by layering a polycarbonate between ordinary glass panes. The polycarbonate is transparent but tough and will absorb the force of a bullet. Such glasses have varying thickness that determines the ability to stop a bullet.

One-way bullet-resistant glass is a version of bulletproof glass whose outer side will stop a bullet, but the inner side allows bullets pass through without hindrance. These types of glasses allow protected individuals from the other side of the glass to fire back at assailants. The glasses are made by laminating a brittle sheet with flexible material.

Advanced technology will soon make it possible to have liquid armour, which besides providing ballistic protection, will also enhance mobility for soldiers in war zones. This kind of armouring is made from ‘shear-thickening’ fluid that particles lock, forming a solid barrier when disturbed.

Apart from the armouring levels, the process cost is also determined by additional features that may be required. Standard features include complete ballistic protection of the car’s body, including floor, roof, as well as having bullet-resistant glass on all windows.

Others include battery and fuel tank protection, run-flat system on all wheels and upgraded suspension to cope with the additional weight that normally is about a tonne. The manufacturer says the additional weight has little impact on fuel consumption, vehicle’s manoeuvrability and speed.

Joz says the run-flat tyres can sustain the vehicle at high speeds for about 80 kilometres from the scene of an attack.

“Additionally, clients can seek extra features like underbelly blast shield and gun ports to allow firing back at aggressors,” he says.

However, importing such vehicles is a process the government keeps a close tab on. Mbijiwe agrees that this is important to avoid such vehicles landing in the hands of criminal elements.

“The vetting process for acquiring and using these vehicles should be incorruptible,” Mbijiwe told The Nairobian.

Before such vehicles are imported, the Criminal Investigations Department officers and foreign affairs ministry vet the process and keep track on such vehicles.

In some countries, armoured vehicles have been used to rob banks and people. No such case has been documented in Kenya, though the notorious trio of the mid 1990s; Bernard Matheri alias ‘Rasta’, Anthony Kanagi (Wacucu) and Gerald Munyeria (Wanugu) had access to bulletproof clothes at a time when such material was not even available to regular police officers.

“We have many orders from Kenya awaiting approval by government agencies. We understand the state has to be vigilant to ensure these vehicles do not fall in the wrong hands,” Joz told The Nairobian.

Kenyans can only purchase the vehicles through pre-ordering and the armouring is done after the security apparatus and government agencies have sanctioned import of the vehicles.