Baptised by fire

CONSIDERED one of the world's top palaeontologists, conservationists and lately a politician, Richard Leakey has always been in the centre of controversies in Kenya.

It is his recent foray into politics after a stormy period as head of the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), that has shocked many and currently invited bitter criticism.

Leakey is a founder of the latest and the most controversial OPPOSitiOD polit-ical party in Kenya - Salina. Recently, he attended the "State ofWorld Forum" in San Francisco with ex-heads of state like George Bush of the us, Mikhail Gorbachev of the former USSR, Britain's Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney of Canada.

The meeting, branded a think-tank aiming to create an "Earth Charter" for AD 2000, pushes Leakey further into global limelight, Born and raised in a family of leading palacon - tologists and archaeologists, he was possessed exceptional skills and knowledge.

But a highly sensational and potentially libelous publication - Leakey, The Man - has been scrialised in the Kenyan media where he was accused of ensuring that no Black Kenyan remained close to his field of work. It is accused that there is little or no record of Leakey having supported and trained archaeologists and palaeontologists.

Six years ago, when Kenya's wildlife fiiced near extinction plagued by heavily armed poachers and factional soldiers from the neighbouring states, Richard Leakey openly campaigned for wildlife conservation services. It is he who openly clashed and disagreed with the then minister for tourism and wildlife, George Muhoho. President Daniel Arap Moi chose Leakey to head the newly formed autonomous KWS to tackle poaching.

With government support an goodwill, Leakeychanged the KWS into a formidable force, trained and aTM4 like the country's elite Paramilitary arms eral service unit. Ht so locked horry with some African na,ions reluctant to ban ivory trade and elephant culling.

However, at the KWS, Leakey's exit was linked to his differences with a Pow erful minister, William Ole Ntimama from the Maasailand which practical barbours most of Kenya's and Tanzania's wildlife. Richard Leakey was accused of handling donor money cam lessly.

Leakey was branded a Mzungu - a White who was a reminder of the history of white colonial dominance in Kenya.

As Leakey claims to be an atheist, his party's name - Salina, which has Biblical connotations, v decried by both Muslii and Christians, Safina seen as a faction evolving out of rivalry within vari ous opposition parties and Leakey is portrayed the evil white aggressor.

To add fuel to fire, Kenya's rabidly political white community recently sent a delegation to reassure President M that it would not help Leakey in his political ventures.

But Leakey the fighter, has had the fortune of being baptised by fire. In a incident smacking of political debauchcry, Leakey was whipped in full view 4 the local and international press wbes, he accompanied an opposition group Kenya's fourth largest town, Nakuru,to visit an opposition politician, Koi Wanowere.

This generated much sympathy Leakey, but the opposition leaders chose to ignore the issue. Leakey is also seen a high-profile white with a well-funded party, which raises eyebrows in a coun try where millions live in abject poverty Despite the odds being against Leakey, Kenyans, now sceptical of feuding Positions politicians, seem willing to give him a fair chance.