At 90, Nathan Waliaula Munoko is amazingly physically fit and clear-minded. Much as memory fails him on some details of his political life, he narrates many defining personal and national moments with interesting anecdotes.
Munoko is agile and alert. For instance, he drives himself around Nairobi and attends to personal and official functions.
At the height of his career in the latter half of the 1970s, Munoko doubled up as the Minister for Works and organising secretary of the only political party, Kanu. Indeed, Munoko served longest in that position — 18 years. He was elected unopposed in the famous Little General Election of 1967 and retired in 1984.
Munoko was born on May 20, 1922, at Kolani, Sirisia, Bungoma District, in a polygamous family, the first born of his mother. His mother was fairly young when his father died in 1926 and she remarried. He says: “My life would have been bleak were it not that my father had given firm instructions to my elder brothers that I should not leave our home and that they take care of me.”
He praises his brothers for guardianship and care during his formative years. Fortunately for Munoko, his brothers valued education in those early years. As a child, he lived in the Quaker (Friends Church) communal setting, where he received religious and secular education at Chwele B School between 1932 and 1934.
In 1935 he was admitted to the Government African School, Kakamega, as student number 122. Munoko held the record in the inter-school half-mile marathon, beating boys from Kapsabet and Kabianga schools who had dominated the event. He also played rugby. From Kakamega, he went to the Maseno Church Missionary School in 1939, where he took his Junior Secondary School Certificate exam in 1940.
Munoko joined Alliance High School in 1941 as student number 628. He was a house prefect and member of the famous Baluhya Musical Club. He was also in the football team and played hockey and volleyball. His classmates included Robert Matano and Charles Rubia, who later became politicians in their own rights.
Munoko passed the ‘O’ Level Cambridge Overseas School Certificate exams in 1942 and proceeded to Makerere in 1943 for a diploma course in veterinary science. But, in 1946, the Veterinary School was moved from Entebbe to Kabete, Kenya. He was, therefore, one of the first graduates of the school on the Kabete campus, in 1947.
In 1944 Munoko bagged the Governor of Uganda Award for the best student “all round”. He was in the university’s First 11 soccer team and his playmates included Edward Mutesa, later the Kabaka of Buganda. Munoko was also a sharp shooter and a member of the Makerere College Cadet Corps with the rank of corporal.
After Makerere, Munoko was employed as a veterinary officer and posted to Maseno in 1948 to take charge of Central Nyanza District. He was later transferred to Mombasa as the Port Veterinary Officer. He inspected the local slaughterhouses and was in charge of hygiene of the meat supplied in Mombasa.