Renowned conservationist Richard Leakey dies

Monday January 03 2022
Conservationist Dr Richard Leakey

Conservationist and former Head of Public Service Richard Leakey who died on January 2, 2022. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Kenya's former Head of Public Service Richard Leakey, a career civil servant and conservationist, has died aged 77.

Leakey breathed his last just hours after the death and cremation of the country’s former Attorney General Charles Mugane Njonjo on Sunday. The two were longtime friends. 

In one of his interviews with the Daily Nation, Njonjo said apart from his family members, the only person he trusted was Leakey.

While announcing his passing on Sunday, President Uhuru Kenyatta described Leakey as a leader who served the country with dedication.

“Dr Leakey, a globally renowned Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist, has over the years served our country with distinction in public service roles, among them Director of the National Museums of Kenya and Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service Board of Directors,” the President said.

“Dr Leakey is celebrated for his prominent role in Kenya’s vibrant civil society, where he founded and successfully ran a number of institutions among them the conservation organisation WildlifeDirect.”


Deputy President William Ruto said Leakey was a “talented, industrious and determined man who pursued his commitments with zeal”.

“He fought bravely for a better country through his efforts in conservation, politics and public service, often excelling in different fields and inspiring many Kenyans with his loyalty to his country,” Dr Ruto said.

Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga said Leakey’s contribution to the country and humanity goes beyond anthropology, stretching to  “responsible management of the environment and democratisation.”

“We stood together in the struggle to return Kenya to multiparty democracy. For that, he was once attacked and flogged, alongside other opposition leaders,” Mr Odinga said.

“When the donor community turned against Kenya in the 1990s, we turned to Leakey to head the civil service and clean up corruption. His tenure as Head of Public Service led to impressive improvements in the way the government kept track of money and in the quality of people appointed.”

Leakey was the National Museums of Kenya director from 1968 to 1989 when he was appointed to head the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, now Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Devoted to the preservation of the country’s wildlife and sanctuaries, Leakey began a campaign to reduce corruption at KWS, cracking down on poaching and restoring security in the national parks. As a result, he made many enemies in the government.

He survived a plane crash in 1983 and would later resign from the KWS, citing interference by President Daniel arap Moi’s government.

Leakey became a founding member of the opposition party - Safina in 1997.

The government had years before repealed laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly.

Pressure by foreign donors led to Leakey’s brief return to the KWS from 1998 to 1999 and to a stint as Secretary to the Cabinet from 1999 to 2001.

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