Wallah Bin Wallah: from a Fishmonger to A Successful Swahili Author

The name Wallah bin Wallah definitely rings a bell to the younger and older generation alike as it brings back fond memories of the author behind a number of Swahili textbooks in primary school. 

His influence has stretched beyond the borders to nearly all the East African countries. From drafting a series of textbooks to helping translate the Tanzanian revised constitution, Wallah’s prowess and outreach are second to none. 

Further, the author went from getting Ksh300 monthly as a Swahili primary teacher to earning a whopping Ksh70 million annually in terms of royalties. 

Wallah bin Wallah is credited to writing Kiswahili Mufti class one to class eight.

Wallah bin Wallah is credited to writing Kiswahili Mufti class one to class eight.Wallah’s story dates back to 1956 in Mwanza, northern Tanzania where he was born and bred.  The author attended Lukungu primary school before joining Bukumbi primary school for two years from class five to class seven.

“After I finished my class seven exam, I was unable to proceed to high school due to lack of fees. Church missionaries took me in in 1972 and enrolled me at the Nyegezi Seminary School for one-and-a-half years,” he previously told Nation. 

However, he was forced to drop out of school after he became a Muslim and could not be sponsored by the Christian missionaries. 

He spent some time selling fish between Mwanza and in Kisumu before the Muslim Youth League sponsored him to go for secondary education in Nairobi. 

After enrolling at Ravals secondary school in Nairobi, Wallah struggled to raise fees after the benefactors were unable to sponsor him beyond Form Two – prompting him to go back to business.

“I started selling peanuts and vegetables in the streets. I would wake up at 3am, go to Marikiti, buy vegetables, keep them in my house and then rush to school. After school, I would pack the vegetables and sell them. Other times I would sell peanuts at the railway station,” he stated.

Developing a passion for Swahili, Wallah managed to complete Form Four with a mastery of the language. He was hired as a Swahili teacher. 

 “They told me to start teaching immediately. The pay was Ksh300 per month. This was a lot of money then.”

He joined Morogoro Teachers Training college after completing Form Six- in order to further pursue his passion of tutoring. He was posted to Misiani Girl’s secondary school to teach Swahili for a three year period. 

He had big dreams of becoming an author and fearing the negativity of tribalism in Kenya – he opted to drop his Luo name Wallah Ndedah and become Wallah bin Wallah (Wallah son of Wallah). 

He later furthered his education at Zanzibar campus by specialising in Swahili and Arabic. Upon returning to Kenya, he got posted to Moi Girls, Isinya.Later, he was posted to Mbita High school. At the time, he wrote his first book, Malenga wa Ziwa Kuu, which was used as a course text in a number of teacher training colleges. 

After resigning from the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) in 1994, he wrote his second book, Taswira ya KCPE Kiswahili. The two books he had published, earned him a mega opportunity after Longhorn publishers beseeched him to write Swahili course books. This opportunity birthed the Kiswahili Mufti series from Class One to Class Eight. He also wrote the Insha Mufti series. 

His books and art of writing had first received huge criticism from other Swahili scholars before it gained acceptance. Wallah also helped in translating the Tanzanian constitution alongside two other professors. 

“If you want to succeed, you must find out what people have done and strive to do it differently and better. Don’t be a copycat. Develop your own style that stands out,” he acknowledged.

Wallah, who earns via royalties, gets paid an average of Ksh50 million annually – which he noted is a normal occurrence for him.

“Ksh50 million is just an average. It could be more or less. It could even go up to Ksh70 million or come down to Ksh30 million per year,” he stated.

A teacher and students inside a classroom at Kawangware Primary School, Nairobi, on October 5, 2015