The lionising of Leakey: Wildlife boss wins battle, but war goes on

LAUGHTER, dancing and applause greeted the controversial Kenyan conservationist, Richard Leakey, when he arrived at his office overlooking Nairobi national park on Friday.

It was his first public appearance since President Daniel arap Moi said he was refusing Leakey's offer to resign as director of the government conservation agency, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The mood was euphoric.

Addressing the staff, Leakey described his reinstatement as 'a dazzling victory over the forces of hate . . . a triumph for all of us. Many did not share the joy of our good works and wanted me out. They have failed.'

It is still unclear, however, whether Leakey is returning to KWS to serve out his full term, which ends next year, or merely to pave the way for a successor. The son of world-renowned palaeontologists Louis and Mary Leakey and a former director of the Kenya National Museums, Leakey was appointed by President Moi to take over the country's wildlife programme in 1989. He swiftly dismantled the corrupt and dispirited department he inherited, sacked 1,640 staff and reinstated a shoot-to-kill policy against animal poachers.

In a continent where government departments are almost universally moribund, KWS became one of Africa's most dynamic institutions. The World Bank and other donors approved dollars 143m ( pounds 95m) to spend over five years.

But over the past year, Leakey could be forgiven for thinking the fates had finally turned against him - starting when he lost both his legs in a plane crash last June.

Although a natural leader, gifted speaker and vigorous fundraiser, Leakey has a bullying and confrontational manner that has made him many enemies. I have met many Kenyans who respect and fear him, but hardly any who genuinely like him.

Last December, a number of powerful politicians - including his immediate boss Noah Katana Ngala, Minister of Wildlife and Tourism - launched a vicious campaign, accusing Leakey of arrogance, racism and corruption. With the revelation in January of a secret government investigation into KWS, it appeared that these enemies had got the upper hand, and that Moi's support had evaporated.

But Leakey challenged Moi to back him or sack him. On 14 January he offered his resignation, and retired to his house on the lip of the Rift Valley to await the President's reply.

The probe found no evidence of corruption or significant wrongdoing at KWS. Nevertheless, the fact that it took Moi nearly two months to decide Leakey's future is a signal of the political difficulties.

On one side the foreign aid donors were vocal in their support of Leakey. Angering them would risk damaging Kenya's status in the international community. More serious was the threat that aid to Kenya, which has only recently been reinstated, would be cut off again or slowed down.

On the other hand, Moi did not want to be accused of openly favouring a white man - particularly one accused of racism - nor did he want to be seen to be cowed by Leakey's international supporters.

Just what kind of face- saving formula has been devised to allow Leakey's return will be revealed after the KWS director meets the President next week.

Nevertheless, five crucial questions need to be addressed if KWS is to recover quickly from the crisis.

The first is the question of KWS autonomy. The agency is nominally under the control of the Ministry of Tourism, but the public enmity between Leakey and the minister has aggravated an already difficult relationship between the two institutions, and unless Moi is prepared to undertake a cabinet reshuffle to please Leakey (which is unlikely), the agency may have to be made accountable elsewhere, perhaps directly to the President's Office.

Moreover, in the interests of greater effectiveness, Leakey always argued that KWS should be exempt from the State Corporations Act, the stultifying legislation that controls Kenyan parastatal organisations. Late last year the exemption was approved; it seemed Leakey had achieved what he wanted. But five weeks later, the government got cold feet and reversed the decision.

The second area that needs serious attention is KWS's relationship with the people who live on the edge of the national parks, whose crops are most at risk from marauding wild animals. A commitment made four years ago to return 25 per cent of national park entry fees to the community has never been fulfilled.

Last year, KWS distributed only pounds 134,000, a tiny fraction of its takings. This failure was widely used by Leakey's enemies to whip up grass-roots sentiment against the KWS director, who was accused of preferring animals to people.

Much also needs to be done internally to strengthen KWS. The relationship between Leakey and the board of trustees - never very good - has deteriorated badly through the crisis. The trustees, in particular the chairman Hilary Ng'weno, conspicuously failed to support Leakey in public; and many complained privately to ministers about him.

KWS's peculiar pay scales have also weakened the agency. A core team of 35 Kenyans was employed at private sector rates to administer the World Bank loans. The anomalies between these staff and regular KWS employees are as daft as they are demoralising. Leakey's personal assistant, for example, is paid six times as much as Leakey. With inflation in Kenya running at more than 100 per cent, pay will continue to be a focus of discontent unless Leakey approves pay rises across the board.

Last is the question of Leakey's succession. If nothing else, his air crash and the recent political crisis have proved that KWS was too dependent on Leakey. While he was there, it flourished; without him, decisions were stalled and KWS quickly began to crumble.

Leakey's health is not good. And his enemies will not give up. While KWS staff may feel euphoric about his reinstatement, the reality is that his worst problems may have only just begun.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn