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Leakey puts the wind up Kenya's ruling elite



For someone who has in recent weeks been denounced as a racist and opportunist, Richard Leakey, who is launching a political party in Kenya this week, appears remarkably unruffled.

President Daniel arap Moi has accused the renowned conservationist of having tried to build up a personal guerrilla force when head of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). One government newspaper has alleged links with the Ku Klux Klan.

"This name-calling saddens me", says Mr Leakey, 50, who is lodging an application to register his movement as an official political party. "I'm none of the things I'm being accused of. But the fact that the government has become so agitated suggests they believe we can draw heavily on the disaffection which exists across the country".

Mr Leakey, Kenya's best-known mzungu (white man), is in the garden of his Nairobi office. Two years ago he lost both legs below the knee when the aircraft he was flying crashed. His large frame rolls a little as he walks on his artificial legs.

The party will be called Safina - "Noah's Ark" in Swahili. "The idea is that we are gathering everyone together for a fresh beginning," Mr Leakey said. "Those involved are young to middle-aged Kenyan men and women. It seeks to be a mass movement, with particular appeal to the young".

The idea for the party was formed against a background of mounting political tension. In recent months the government has waged an hysterical offensive against members of the opposition, charging an array of political opponents with involvement in insurgency activities. There have been widespread arrests of opposition figures as well as moves against publications and civil rights groups.

The opposition groups which contested and lost Kenya's first multi-party election in 1992 have shown themselves to be increasingly incapable of confronting and challenging the ruling Kanu party. But Mr Leakey's international status and his track-record in raising foreign funds for the KWS seem to have put the wind up President Moi and his associates. In an attempt to disparage the new party plan, the President has denounced Mr Leakey as a foreigner in the pay of outsiders.

"Calling me a foreigner is very dangerous", says Mr Leakey whose brother is a member of the ruling party and a former foreign minister. "I'm a third-generation Kenyan. I cannot be considered a foreigner under the constitution. And there is no question of any foreign funding."

Mr Leakey insists he neither wishes to lead the party nor the country. He believes, however, that his international status and standing in Kenya will enable him to play a useful role. His associates include figures well-known in liberal and opposition circles. They aim to contest the next general election in 1997.

"The country is slipping backwards and something has to be done about it", he says. "I and a number of people have been agonising about the way things are going: falling standards, massive corruption, general bad government. We felt this initiative would be one possible way of making the country work again."