Brutal and heartless: A day in the life of city auctioneers
With a straight face and a clear voice, Mr Apollo Owuor beams with pride as he shares his experience as an auctioneer for the last 18 years.
He wears his longevity in the trade as a badge of honour.
Some of his milestones in the occupation include sitting at the Auctioneers Licensing Board for the last four years and currently chairing the National Association of Kenyan Auctioneers (Naka).
But one thing bothers him — that not all Kenyans hold auctioneers in high regard.
Arguing his case animatedly, Mr Owuor, who is the sole proprietor of Victoria Blue Auctioneer Services, fights off the notion that they engage in dirty business that can attract curses.
“Let me put it this way: You go to a bank, for example, and they give you a loan for Sh6 million to buy an FH lorry for which you only paid 10 per cent. It’s a brand new lorry. Your contribution was 10 per cent. Three, four months down the line, you are not paying the loan. Would you call that a curse when it’s taken away?”
He adds: “You stay in somebody’s house, and there is a landlord who has loans to clear, and you are not paying rent. At the end of the month, the bank will not want to know whether he has a tenant who is not paying or not. Look at it in a positive way and that’s when you’ll understand.”
He says that many do not understand how important an auctioneer is “until that time you are helped by an auctioneering firm to survive a situation”.
“Until you lend your friend Sh500,000, he refuses to repay you, you take him to court, get a judgment, you will not care what happens to his car. You cannot see somebody driving a car because of your Sh500,000 and you’re down and you have a judgment. You’ll tow that car. That is justice, according to me,” he says.
He explains that what he and other auctioneers make is “very clean money”.
“Without auctioneers, even insurance companies would not be settling accident claims. They take time until an auctioneer engages. That’s when they pay. That is one thing Kenyans should really appreciate auctioneers for,” he says.
To show the diversity of the sector that is often associated with “tough” men, Mr Owuor says more women are joining.
“I remember we had an interview with one of the ladies we recruited early last month. She’s a teacher by profession, trained at Kenyatta University. She had no job. You know, the government is not employing teachers. She joined an auctioneering firm, now she has her firm as an auctioneer. And she says she doesn’t want to teach any more and no longer believes in employment,” he says.
“So, Kenyans should take it just like any other business. For young men who do not have jobs, come and join the profession. We are streamlining it,” he says.
But it is not only Mr Owuor who feels slighted by the perceptions towards auctioneers.
Mr George Muiruri, who has been plying the trade under Leakey’s Auctioneers for 20 years, believes there is something divine about the work he does.
“We are at the end of the judicial process. When courts give decisions or judgments, it is the work of the auctioneer to do the execution,” he says.
Their role, he adds, may sometimes appear to be like doing the “dirty job” but in most instances they are just executing orders.
“By execution I mean we have to do the attachment. And you know that if you go to take somebody’s item or asset, of course there will be resistance. You will be seen as kind of unfair. Whereas we are allowed by law to do the execution, in this case people take us as if we are thugs,” he says.
This, says Mr Muiruri, may sometimes include evicting a family from their home, making some think “we are bad people”.
“This is an honest business. We are guided by the law. Even during Jesus’ time, there were debt collectors, weren’t there? Jesus Christ spent a night in a debt collector’s house. If it is not a divine profession, he would not have associated himself with debt collectors, would he?” asks Mr Muiruri.
Mr Owuor and Mr Muiruri were contributing to a Lifestyle conversation about people who deal in money and people’s property — auctioneers, shylocks and debt collectors.