Hiroyuki Hino: My tribute to Richard Leakey

His achievements are truly remarkable and universally acclaimed.

In Summary

• It seemed that his determination to live defeated all odds.

• His achievements are truly remarkable and universally acclaimed.

Former Head of Public Service Richard Erskine Frere Leakey.
Former Head of Public Service Richard Erskine Frere Leakey.

Richard Leakey was a man on a mission for his entire life – from his adolescence to his untimely passing last week. Richard had an indomitable spirit.

He once told me “I should have died three times: the first when I was bitten by a snake, the second when the plane I was riding on crashed, and the third when my internal organs were infected and irrecoverably damaged. But I never did.”

It seemed that his determination to live defeated all odds.

His achievements are truly remarkable and universally acclaimed.

  • The Turkana boy and his other archaeological discoveries changed our understanding of how humankind evolved. “We all come from Turkana”, he used to tell me.
  • Richard’s bold leadership stopped a tidal wave of poaching of elephants, lions, rhinos and other wildlife. He famously burned elephant tusks worth hundreds of millions of dollars in his fight against cartels. He feared no one.
  • Richard was a fierce advocate for Kenya's forests. Even sceptical politicians had to listen to his strong voice of reason. Although forest protection remains a challenge in Kenya, the haemorrhaging of forests has largely been halted.
  • Richard was the most recognizable face in the global campaign for the conservation of wildlife and the protection of the environment. In October of 2019, a long line of people queued for more than one hour to listen to Richard’s public lecture at Duke University in what was perhaps his final public appearance; his knowledge, experiences, and dedication were respected worldwide.
  • Democracy, with pluralistic voices and freedom of the press, is now well established in Kenya, thanks in no small measure to Richard’s contributions. He started an opposition party soon after the multi-party democracy was adopted in Kenya and, in addition, steadfastly supported NGOs and their independence.

But his mission remains unaccomplished.

Ngaren, a museum that embodies Richard's life mission, was due to break ground this year.

“Ngaren is the Museum of Humankind that tells the story of our common ancestry, our epic journeys, and our future obligation to protect the planet that is our only home. Ngaren is where the world will come face-to-face with the forces of change that brought about our existence – and imagine the changes needed to sustain it.” [1 (

“I want Ngaren to address that what it was not always and that what is won’t always be. We’ve got to introduce the notion that the Earth is a dynamic place, that there are factors that we can influence, and there are others that we cannot control.” – Richard Leakey

Richard wanted to build this ultra-modern, futuristic and massive museum in Turkana, where he spent much of his mischievous youth and made his key archaeological discoveries.

He wanted this museum to drive a fundamental change in Turkana, both to recreate the beauty it once was – with green pastures, glorious acacia trees and roaming wildlife – and to create an urban metropolis of the 21st century, the Dubai of Africa.

Richard was passionate about Turkana, Kenya, Africa and the world.

His passion was infectious. I will always remember our conversations under the Southern Cross in his “5-star” excavation camp in the Turkana desert -- about his adventures in life, his fights to conserve water, wildlife, forests and the environment, his indignation about politics and politicians, and about his dreams.

These conversations were truly inspiring, and his passion quickly found a home in my heart, sparking a fire that compelled action in support of our shared causes.

I treasure the time I had with Richard. As the Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister and subsequently the Senior Advisor to the Presidency for strategic initiatives and economy, I was fortunate to have had opportunities to work closely with him – to help wildlife conservancies, to restore Kenya’s water towers and lakes, to promote renewable energy, to respond to drought emergencies, and to begin transforming Kenya’s arid-land. His energy was boundless.

Richard’s contributions to Kenya and the world are enormous. Kenya is a global leader in the Climate Change movement and in the conservation of wildlife and the environment: a legacy Richard left behind. I trust that Kenya will carry the torch that Richard has lit, whoever its future political leaders may be.

I call on all of Richard’s friends to continue pursuing his dreams. I am doing my part in a small way.

Richard, we will miss you ….

Hiroyuki Hino is visiting professor at Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS)