“In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.”
Dr. Wangari Maathai was one of the most widely respected women on the African continent. She played many roles against the odds – environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser and human rights advocate.
In 1977 she founded the Green Belt Movement.
The Green Belt Movement planted trees across Kenya to fight deforestation, water crisis and rural hunger, and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.
Later the movement was supported by the United Nations and expanded to become The Pan African Green Belt Network.
Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.
Dr. Maathai won the Peace Prize in 2004 for what the Nobel committee called “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”
She spoke all over the world against environmental degradation and poverty, which she believed were inextricably linked. She was also a thorn in the side of Kenya’s previous president, Daniel arap Moi, whose government labeled the Green Belt Movement “subversive” during the 1980s.
When she led protests against the governments plan to build a skyscraper in Uhuru Park, President Moi suggested that Maathai be ‘a proper woman’ and respect men and be quiet. But Dr. Maathai was not one for remaining quiet.
She received many honorary degrees and awards internationally, and wrote several books, including
“Unbowed: A Memoir,” in 2006.
Wangari Maathai spoke the truth to those in power. She was a visionary trail-blazer in whatever she did, whether it was in the environment, women’s rights or politics.
She died in September 2011 in Nairobi.
“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness (…) to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”