Obituary

Dr Richard Leakey: Why ‘master of deceit’ was buried on a hill

God is the biggest fake news of all time. I am a humanist. I believe in evolution

Ancestral passions: The late Dr Richard Leakey was in public revered as an anthropologist and conservationist. But behind the scenes, his ruthlessly ambitious streak left murder allegations, corruption, witch-hunting, intellectual property theft, witchcraft and ‘corporate incest’ in its wake.

By Undercover Reporter

‘I did not come out of my mother’s vagina to please anybody’ was what Dr Richard Leakey, said of how he lived his life-which ended recently after years battling kidney, liver failure, skin cancer.

Dr Leakey, who was not a medical doctor, had no academic doctorate, died on January 2 at  his grape farm in Kona Baridi, Ngong. He was 77. Quite a lifespan for someone medics gave 10 years to live, when renal failure came calling at 35. The only matching kidney donor was younger brother Philip-with whom he had not spoken with for 10 years. Much about their eternal hatred later.

An incorrigible atheist, Leakey believed “God is the biggest fake news of all time. I am a humanist. I believe in evolution.” He now knows whether God exists or not.

Indeed, it was Leakey’s work in archeology for which he had no qualifications, besides being canned in school for missing chapel that triggered atheistic leanings, being a scion of missionary stock, aside.

“You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. It’s not covered by Genesis,” he once reasoned. “There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.”

He hired witchdoctors to cleanse his office when the going got tough

Bony fortunes: Richard Leakey with an Australopithecus Skull in 1981. He was buried in a private ceremony on a hill overlooking the Great Rift Valley which made his family globally famous as anthropologists, archaeologists; who dug up million year old pasts on which the immortality of the Leakeys rests despites their bloody feuds, naked jealousies, fossilized rivalries.

Funny how, during one of his many mishaps including a plane crash resulting in amputation at the knees in 1993, Leakey’s bootlicking sidekicks at the National Museums of Kenya, where he was a director, held prayers in a church! That, for a mzungu who hired witchdoctors to cleanse his office when the going got tough: murder allegations, corruption, intellectual property theft, witch-hunting, ‘corporate incest’, nepotism, favouritism, dictatorship.

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 “I am impatient and forceful. People take too long to move and I cannot take it,” he later explained of his perceived go-getter arrogance. Leakey was also a cunning businessman, supplying skeletons to universities and museums, running a hot air balloon venture in the Mara in between years as a conniving crook, publicity seeker and public speaker. Via agents, Royce Carlton Inc, Leakey made millions in the lecture and speaking circuits.

 A master manipulator, he trimmed the edges of honesty, arm twisting scientists to co-name him in researches he hardly took part in or else funding taps would dry up. One perennial victim was curator Kamoya Kimeu, now 82. Though adept at sighting the glint of ancient ancestors in bones, Kimeu was always shortchanged off the goodies and glory.

Leakey kept records of everyone at his locker, mostly signed misdeeds for future blackmail

Ivory merchants: Though teachers at Duke of York School (Lenana School) told his parents “Richard has no potential; not even in the army with these grades,” he still became Professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University, New York. In many quarters he was revered as a conservationist, a connected fundraiser, a paleontologist, one who “shaped our understanding of human origins” and savior of elephants. Like the historic burning of ivory in Nairobi above which halted ivory trade worldwide and the reason he had five armed bodyguards 24/7.

Like American spymaster J Edgar Hoover, Leakey kept records of everyone at his locker, mostly signed misdeeds for future blackmail in case one did not toe the line as one victim, Eustace Gitonga informs us in his 1995 book, Richard E. Leakey: The Master of Deceit, co-authored with Dr Martin Pickford.

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But few Kenyans got a chance to read how Leakey hived off and sold Museum land off Nairobi River, the two acres where a three-star hotel now stands off Museum Hill. This manipulation of maps to acquire new title deeds for private profit happened on historical sites including Fort Jesus, Mombasa, notes Gitonga.

Of more interest is that Museums carry out research containing priceless info: Before Kenyans learnt there was oil in Turkana, Leakey had the intel from researchers at the Museum’s Geology Department. Armed with the info way back in the 1980s, Leakey acquired hundreds of acres near the oil fields and where his own research outfit, the Turkana Basin Institute, sits! Leakey, who did not sue Gitonga for the damning revelations, bought all available copies.

He became Museum director at 22, his iron fisted reign ended in premium tears

Beyond pipe dreams: Richard with his father, Louis Leakey, the first mzungu born in Kikuyuland to Canon Harry and Mary Leakey in Kabete in 1903. Louis like Richard divorced first wife Frida after endless domestic tiffs and two children, Patricia Muthoni and Colin Leakey-the world’s foremost expert on beans.
 

Anyway, the son of famous archeologist Dr Louis Leakey, showed early signs of ruthless ambition when he left Lenana School in Form Two and joined his Old Guy at the Museum. He was shortly jobless-and 22 year old Leakey’s iron fisted reign at the National Museums of Kenya started-and ended in premium tears-for some quarters.

That included his marriage to first wife, archeologist Margaret Cropper. It ended in 1969 after four years and one daughter, Anna. “I had this horror,” recalled Leakey, “of Anna growing up in a house where there were going to be fights.”

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Leakey remarried, long-suffering wife (according to Gitonga), Dr Meave Leakey, a zoologist in 1970. She gave birth to two daughters, Dr Louise Leakey, a paleontologist and Samira Leakey, an economist.

Leakey, one of only three Kenyans-besides nationalist Tom Mboya and marathoner Ibrahim Hussein Kipkemboi- to grace the cover of Time magazine, served as a nominated MP, head of the Civil Service, former chair of the Kenya Wildlife Service. He also head hunted the Dream Team. It comprised extravagantly paid fat cats whose idea of reforming government in exchange for badly needed donor aid in late 1990s Kenya, included laying off 25, 000 civil servants.

Leakey, who survived a fractured skull as a kid, snake bite, a plane crash succumbed to undisclosed causes

White Africans: Young Richard Leakey with mother Mary Douglas Leakey. She is holding lastborn son Philip, the future MP for Lang’ata now dealing in gemstones from Taita. Mary was the second wife of Louis Leakey here seated next to first born son, Jonathan, who runs Leakey’s Auctioneers besides being one of Kenya’s biggest exporter of snake poisons and the medicinal African Plum (muiri) tree.
“We were never close as a family,” Richard once recalled. “It was always fossils first.”
Despite Philip donating a kidney to Richard, the two never saw eye to eye.
The bile began when Richard forced his mother and siblings to have their father buried in Limuru instead of being cremated.
“I was very nasty, very mean about this, and said things that should never have been said.”
Years later, when Richard co-founded the Opposition party Safina with Paul Muite, Philip, who was in the ruling party, Kanu told Muite: “Tell Richard the kidney I gave him belongs to Kanu. Kanu wants its kidney back!.”

Leakey, who survived a fractured skull as a kid, snake bite, a plane crash succumbed to undisclosed causes. He was buried on the hill he so loved overlooking the Valley Rift Valley. His parents first made their early forays in archeology at Hyrax Hill in Nakuru; the  Valley that also carried his fame and fortune on the bony back of ‘Turkana Boy’, the 1.6 million year old Homo Erectus, the most complete early human skeleton ever found and other discoveries he made when ‘Fossil Fever’ struck.

Richard Erskine Leakey died without changing his mind about God: “I see no reason why you should go through your life thinking if you’re a good citizen, you’ll get a better future in the afterlife.” 

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