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Masai Warriors Threaten Leakey Famed Paleontologist’s Involvement In Politics Leads To Campaign Of Vilification

SATURDAY, MAY 20, 1995

In the last two weeks, members of the Kenya’s ruling party have burned prominent paleontologist Richard Leakey in effigy and vilified him as a colonialist, an atheist, an incompetent “white man.”

Leakey’s transgression: He announced he is involved in forming a new political party.

The campaign of condemnation against the 50-year-old Leakey turned more threatening Thursday when more than 100 Masai warriors with machetes, clubs and swords surrounded his home in the Ngong Hills southwest of Nairobi.

The daily East African Standard reported Friday that the confrontation was led by members of the ruling party of President Daniel arap Moi.

Neither Leakey nor his wife was at home at the time; they were reported visiting London.

The incident came just a day after armed Masai tribesman occupied a courthouse in support of William Ntimama, a local government minister and a key supporter of the president.

Ntimama had been accused in a civil suit of inciting the Masai to oust members of other tribes from the Rift Valley during recent ethnic disturbances. After the invasion, the attorney general ordered the case against Ntimama thrown out.

It was against the backdrop of the violence and political repression that Leakey announced May 7 he was joining in the formation of a new opposition party.

Leakey accused Moi’s government of mismanagement and corruption, and said a new political party is needed due to “government failings and the increasing frustration everywhere over the performance of the leaders of the opposition.” Since then, Moi has publicly criticized Leakey at least four times, calling him an atheist who would find it “extremely difficult to relate to God-fearing Kenyans.”

Moi also said Leakey is a colonialist and that he had failed as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. Moi had named Leaky to the post in 1989, and Leaky was credited with ending years of mismanagement before resigning last year, saying a campaign of vilification and government-ordered changes in the service had made his job impossible.

“White people tell us change, change, change,” Moi said at a rally early this week. “They are urging us to have political reforms.”

“Even Leakey, a white man, comes and tells us: I want to remove you,” said Moi.

The campaign against Leakey goes into the ranks of Moi’s Kenyan African National Union.

Secretary-general Joseph Kamotho, who is also the education minister, said the formation of a new party is sinister and should be investigated. A lower level party official burned Leakey in effigy and urged other party faithful to do likewise.

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