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Richard Leakey's wars of beetles and skins at Museum of Kenya

When late President Daniel Moi had a conversation with Dr Richard Leakey. [File, Standard]

Dr Richard Leakey who at one time was appointed to reform the country’s public service and turn around the economy in 1999 had a special way with of dealing with friends turned foe.

When one of Leakey’s deputy directors resigned from his post, his mercurial boss plotted how to get his skin, quite literally. Although Issa Aggundey had resigned as deputy director and returned to work in his mammals skins laboratory, he was not yet out of Leakey’s hair.

A plot was hatched where some voracious beetles would be stolen from the museum’s entomology and unleashed on the mammals skin laboratory where they would have unfettered access. The end result would be the rare mammals skin collection being destroyed.

This, according to Eustace Gitonga and Dr Martin Pickford in their book, Richard Leakey, Master of Deceit, would force Aggundey to resign because of criminal negligence.

According to the authors, a senior museum’s staff who was working in cahoots with Leakey (pictured) sneaked into the lab. Earlier, the officer had put hundreds of beetles in a wide mouthed glass jar. He unscrewed the lid and scooped out a handful of beetles and scattered them.

It was however at this precise moment that Aggundey walked into what was now a crime scene. Apparently all the while the officer who had opened the laboratory using a master key was blowing beetles into the laboratory, a perplexed Aggundey was watching behind a glass door. He quickly fumigated the laboratory and exterminated the beetles which had been unleashed to eat up the entire skin collection.

While this was going on, Mike Clifton who was in Entomology department was sent to British Museum for Natural History for an assignment that soon turned out to be a decoy and by the time he returned, he found the exhibit in ruins.

He was forced to resign and despite having worked for 20 years for the National Museums of Kenya, was denied his pension. Apparently, the blue-eyed expatriate who had been picked by Leakey to assemble the exhibition had no capacity to carry out the exercise.

A Kenyan Beatrice Tengechu who would have effectively served the museum at a senior management level was sabotaged when she was sent to University College, Cardiff for her PhD taxonomic techniques. Her meal was laced with toxic substances and had to drop her cause.

Although she reported her drugging to the Kenyan embassy in London, when she ultimately returned to Kenya, Leakey refused to have her back at the museum.