You might not have read this name before, and this despite the six times it has been featured on my blog but Wangari Maathai – who died on Sunday at the age of 71 – was a famous environmentalist, well-known for her Green Belt Movement.
This is also why she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and why she was considered by many a role model. I personally quickly got to know her tremendous work on planting trees and empowering women in her home country, Kenya.
The environmental cause has lost one of its most important leaders. Similarly, the African continent has lost one of its best spokesperson, but I am sure many others will step up to continue her causes.
Here is the homage paid to Professor Maathai by the Economist :
THIS blog was named after a tree because a tree nurtures, it holds together the land and provides sustenance and a gathering point for a local community. The Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, understood these qualities better than anyone.
The winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, who died on September 25th while undergoing treatment for cancer at a hospital in Nairobi, worked tirelessly over the last decades to plant over 20 millions trees throughout Africa. As a woman she understood that women were strong like trees; they should do the planting.
She was lionhearted. She took on Kenya’s strongman, Daniel arap Moi, and stood up to the crooks in his government who were trying to steal Nairobi’s central park for development. She was imprisoned and brutalised, but she won: Uhuru Park will be her legacy.
Ms Maathai’s organisation, the Green Belt Movement will outlast her. In life she was marginalised and her green agenda ignored; now she is dead and cannot excoriate the ruling class for its venality, vanity and lack of vision, Ms Maathai will be reinvented as a saint and a heroine.
Environmentalists should extract the highest price from African politicians seeking to burnish themselves with Ms Maathai’s life: a commitment to sustainability.
In particular, they should be forced to accelerate her visionary campaign to replant indigenous trees along river banks and ravines where the continent’s life-giving top soil is being swept away.
This video, “I will be a hummingbird” is worth watching to get a sense of Ms Maathai.