Leakey Takes Top Kenyan Post

In a surprising move, anthropologist Richard Leakey has left his current post as director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), to become head of the civil service, the highest nonpolitical job in the Kenyan administration.

Leakey has been an outspoken critic of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, who ousted him from his post at KWS in 1994 and hired him back 4 years later (ScienceNOW, 28 September 1998). But today, Moi said that Leakey has his "complete and undivided support" in the new position. Moi expects Leakey to "change the culture of corruption and inefficiency in our public service." Leakey told ScienceNOW that his new job is "apolitical," but he said he plans to push for "policies rooted in conservation" across the government.

A mismanaged government and widespread corruption have been the major stumbling blocks in saving Kenya's famed wildlife, says Agi Kiss, principal ecologist at the World Bank's Africa Environment Group. Although she considers the country's outlook still gloomy, Leakey's appointment "is the first thing I've gotten excited about in quite some time."

But skeptics say the appointment may be little more than a strategic move by Moi to shore up his power or improve his government's tarnished image to the outside world. Leakey's promotion, says conservation biologist David Woodruff of the University of California, San Diego, "has little to do with wildlife conservation or natural resource stewardship for the people of Kenya and everything to do with national politics and power."

Leakey says his successor at KWS will be announced next week.