What you need to know:
- Being a middle child, he found his situation tougher, so he charmed his way into his father’s business.
- None of his elder siblings had completed school but he was determined to make something of himself.
About four decades ago, in Kitui County, a boy grew up with a reputation for losing his father’s cows whenever he went herding. He hated tilling land, but loved books and storytelling. Thirty-six years later, he is a renowned psychologist, famous for posting fiery advice on Facebook and TikTok.
His mother was a second wife, following the passing of the first, and even though the four children from the first wife were grown, his father went on to have 11 more. Benjamin Zulu was the sixth and always felt like the younger family was “treated like threats to the family’s resources and inheritance”.
With their mother a housewife, the family depended on Senior Zulu, who in turn depended on selling traditional brew. He so loved this business that he set up a house in a different compound, and required that his children focus on the business after school.
“Whenever we got home, we would collect firewood, honey and sugar, water from a faraway river, then cook the brew. Others looked for tobacco and cigarettes that were sold as accessories,” recalls Zulu.
They were required to make sure that the brew was ready before they prepared supper.
“Due to poverty, sometimes we would be cooking githeri at midnight and end up eating supper at 3am. We slept with chickens and goats, and as soon as you went to sleep, the cocks started crowing.
“The business also hit its peak past midnight, and drunken clients would be singing or arguing. In the morning, tired and still sleepy, we would eat supper’s leftovers and go to school.”
The money his father earned, says Zulu, disappeared as soon as it came in. He was a user and a seller, and the money was never enough to provide basic needs for his big family.
“We struggled with school fees and clothing. We walked barefoot and would often be sent back home for fees – two shillings per student – which happened often,” Zulu recalls, laughing.
Being a middle child, he found his situation tougher, so he charmed his way into his father’s business, making sure to know who owed how much, and ensuring that it was duly paid. Eventually, his father let him manage the business when he was away. Secretly, he saved money from rationing ingredients.
None of his elder siblings had completed school but he was determined to make something of himself.
At school, he made sure to stay disciplined in order to be sent on errands by teachers, who would give him tips. Performing well earned him monetary gifts, which he saved for shoes and occasional treats.
School was his solace. It had books, encouraging teachers, food and peace, which he lacked at home.
“Since my father also used alcohol, he would sometimes chase us out of the house at night. He would hurt my mother, and I would hate him.
“In return, my mother would beat us up because of the stress, then I would also hate her. She had several separations from my father because of alcohol.”
After passing his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, he enrolled at St Charles Lwanga Secondary School through the influence of his teacher, whose husband was a magistrate.
“Brewing traditional alcohol, my father knew he was on the wrong side of the law. He was scared that if he turned down her advice, her husband would come for him. He sold a parcel of the land, then told me that I better pass because the parcel was my share of inheritance.
“When I finished, I applied to study for a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Nairobi. Being talkative, I was told I would make a good lawyer.”
When he finally earned his degree his heart felt unsettled. He felt that lawyers were only fixing problems, avoiding risks and apportioning blame.
He could do more, he thought, so he decided to embark on a master’s degree in counselling psychology instead of proceeding to the Kenya School of Law. He enrolled at International Leadership University and graduated in 2016.
His hunger to continue learning saw him enrolled for a PhD in clinical psychology at Daystar University in 2017. However, he started feeling the same discomfort he had about lawyering. He didn’t want to work in hospitals making diagnoses and treating mental illnesses.
“As I contemplated what to do, I continued teaching students in psychology and doing volunteer work in psychological counselling at the school clinic.”
He also offered counselling sessions in partnership with two of his friends. While at it, he realised that most students below 25 were making irrational decisions revolving around romance and relationships.
“I dealt with cases that were so disastrous and which pinched me to the core. Most were girls,” he says.
“I did research on the age group and realised that their poor decisions stemmed from incomplete brain development. They needed more guidance, and I could step in.
“My sessions were also always hyped, which also made me realise that clinical psychology was not for me.”
That is how life coaching came in. The concept, he realised, was new in Kenya, so he took up short courses for six years. In 2017, he opened a Facebook account to share what he had learnt and to coach his online audience. He also hoped that through the platform, he would get a lifelong partner.
After a year of searching, they met, and as they courted, he got a chance to appear on a talk show on Switch TV, which set the pace for his subsequent appearances. The two were married in 2019, and he opened his own consultancy firm later the same year.
“I focused on life coaching because I realised that what people needed was inspiration. Many young people are looking for direction, and through this, I can offer the same.”
Now, he appears on TV and radio shows weekly, produces content for his Facebook and TikTok followers and runs his consultancy firm.
“I have finally succeeded, but my mother remains my hero. For all the trouble she endured to keep us fed and safe, I honour her. However, I feel like she missed out on many opportunities that would have made her life better because of having many children.
“That is why I emphasise the power of gaining knowledge and ensuring one has a career before starting a family. It saves you from a lot of misery. My father died just after I graduated in law, and by then he was old. He had become my friend, and thanks to him, I am now wiser.”