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Tussle over Sh8.2bn Leakey museum project site

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Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey's decision to shift construction of a Sh8.2 billion museum from Turkana to Kajiado has sparked protests from Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok. FILE PHOTOS | NMG

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Summary

  • The facility, which is aimed at boosting knowledge on human evolution, was initially marked for construction in Turkana’s Ngaren area on the Lothagam ranges near the Kenyan border with Ethiopia.
  • The museum project team said it opted to move facility from Turkana due to poor transport access to the remote site.
  • Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok, however, faulted the decision to move the project from Ngaren, terming it “theft of the community’s heritage”.

A decision by renowned paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey to shift the construction of a Sh8.2 billion museum to a new site in Loodariak in Kajiado County has sparked protests from the Turkana County government amid claims of cultural heritage rights loss.

The facility, which is aimed at boosting knowledge on human evolution, was initially marked for construction in Turkana’s Ngaren area on the Lothagam ranges near the Kenyan border with Ethiopia.

The Lothagam ranges are popular worldwide following the discovery of the best-preserved fossils of man's ancient ancestors there -- including the most complete skeleton of an early human known as Turkana Boy.

The museum project team said it opted to move facility from Turkana due to poor transport access to the remote site.

“Although major fossil finding and the Turkana Base Institute are oriented around Lake Turkana, Ngaren, the museum cannot be built there. After mapping the area and looking into infrastructure and economic value for Kenya’s tourism and travel industry, Turkana as a location is logistically impractical,” the museum project liaison officer for Kenya and the Netherlands, Karin Boomsma, told the Business Daily in an interview.

“Over time Ngaren has been focused on creating the right content for a life changing experience with science and the topics of natural history, evolution and human origin.”

Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok, however, faulted the decision to move the project from Ngaren, terming it “theft of the community’s heritage”.

“People who want to see the remains of Turkana Boy need to visit the archeological site preserved by the local community. We shall take all measures possible to protect what is rightfully ours,” he said.

“We stand to lose our heritage similar to the loss of African historical fossils to the West, our idea, our name Ngaren and even funds jointly raised for the project raised. We will apply our might to stop this theft.”

Mr Nanok said the national government and the legislators from Turkana had already initiated fundraisers to aid the construction of the museum.

“How will the Maasai people in the new project site in Kajiado relate with cultural artefacts of the Turkana people? We actually agreed with the local community to maintain its traditional way of life as part of the preservation of our heritage. That will never go away,” he said.

East African history

Works on the museum facility in Kajiado, which has been designed by Daniel Libeskind, the architect who rebuilt the World Trade Center in New York, will begin later this year and it is expected to be ready for use in 2026.

It will sit on 300 acres donated by Dr Leakey and his wife Maeve in honour of the family’s discovery of the best-preserved fossils of man's ancient ancestors.

“Ngaren museum represents a celebration of the beginning of all humanity, of life and its amazing biodiversity. It is dedicated to educating humankind on our shared past and tells the story of our common ancestry, our epic journey of evolution,” said Dr Leakey.

Ngaren is being developed in collaboration with Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Museum and Research, Netherlands and will be Africa’s first all-digital planetarium to display real-size African dinosaurs.

The Ngaren museum project is being built in tandem with the East African Museum of Art, Nairobi (EMMA) where the latter will tell East Africa’s art history from the dawn of human civilisation to the present times.

The facility will house the museum, partner institutions, a restaurant, conference rooms and a small amphitheatre to host events such as social, business, and family gatherings.