I am a hawker, not government spy, says pencil peddler

Edgar Otieno at work along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi

For 15 years, Edgar Otieno has been dressing like a headmaster and heads to town to hawk pencils.

To some Nairobians, he’s a state spy masquerading as a hawker. Kanjo askaris christened him ‘Mwalimu,’ while other people, some of whom insult him and bombard him with unending questions, think he is a drug peddler.

“They tell me in the face that I am a National Intelligence Service guy. Earlier this month, a stranger stopped me and said he knows I am a government spy and that I pretend to be a hawker.

I was told there was a blogger who posted that I move around in two Mercedes Benz cars,” says Otieno, adding that, “At first, this allegation bothered me, but nowadays, such claims work for me.

Out of curiosity, some clients buy from me and police do not manhandle me. But I wonder why a hawker who is well-dressed is doubted.”

The 38-year-old sells the pencils for Sh199 per dozen, making over Sh30,000 per month.  Out of that Sh16,000 goes towards his rent in Donholm estate Nairobi and “I dress well because of the good earnings.”

On how pencils afford him creature comforts, Otieno explains that, “A pencil is often needed by all. Anybody I impress buys it, some even for their friends. In the city centre, people have purchasing power and there are many people. I hawk until 9pm. Buying is contagious, others buy when they see others doing so.”

The father of one was the butt of jokes by relatives and friends when he started hawking pencils in Nairobi in 2002. But today, he turns down many job offers from his customers.

“They offer me sales and marketing jobs but I decline because they want to pay Sh15,000 or less. In 2007, I worked as sales representative for a local bank but after two years, I quit as I was unable to buy myself a suit and a new pair of shoes.

But through my hawking, I can effortlessly spend Sh4,500 on a suit. I have a couple of them,” says Otieno who last year joined an insurance company selling policies but left immediately and trooped back to the streets.

Otieno was initiated into hawking after he left his Busia village on completing secondary school education. He planned to take it as a temporary job but fell in love with pencils. He was among over 200 traders but years later, he is the sole hawker of Indian-made Nataraj pencils.

He says that though the manufacturers do not know him in person, he advertised them. He plans to quit and become a stationer, social worker or a corporate sales person.