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When Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere said a big NO to Richard Leakey

Dr Louis Leakeywith his wife Mary Leakey. [File, Standard]

When Richard Leakey set his mind on something he didn’t do it in half measures. That is why he knocked on doors of presidents, princes, kings and queens when he wanted to retain the heritage his parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, had owned.

He had realised that if he could own a people’s past like his father had with his earthshaking archeological and anthropological writings, he could mint millions of dollars.

At one point Leakey hatched a plan to woo Tanzania into surrendering its archeological sites so that he could exclusively own all the fossils excavated from them.

This meant a lot of money from research and donor funding. He had already secured archeological funds in Kenya through an elaborate structure as the Director of Kenya’s National Museum.

For the plan to work, he lured His Royal Highness Prince Bernard off Netherlands to visit him at Koobi Fora camp where he deployed the services of a snake expert and amateur astronomer to entertain the prince.

Since Leakey’s ambition was to control paleontology and archeology throughout East Africa as Eustace Gitonga and Martin Gitonga explain in their book, Richard E Leakey: Master of Deceit, he asked the Prince to invite then Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere to the Netherlands. 

During that meeting on April 21, 1965 in Netherlands, Leakey, tried to convince Nyerere to allow him to continue carrying out excavations in Tanzania and store the fossils. A follow up meeting was set for the Prince and Leakey to be hosted by Nyerere in Tanzania.

Leakey’s plans went awry for Nyerere was not very enthusiastic about his overtures and flatly refused.

Before the trip, Leakey called Nyerere to confirm whether the trip was still on. “I am flying down my plane and it will be almost empty. Is there anything I could bring down for you from Nairobi, Sir?”

Nyerere brushed him off saying he had everything he needed in Tanzania and didn’t want anything from Nairobi.  

There are anecdotes too of Leakey trying to sell his theory of evolution of humankind to local Anglican bishops, and even inviting the head of the church in England to Kenya.

He had used his friendship at Buckingham Palace to try and sell his theory in the hope that if accepted by the queen and the church, he would rake in good cash since he controlled the sites described by archeologists as the origin of mankind.

His mission flopped just like his theory of evolution, which had been dismissed by scientist for lacking empirical and scientific backing.