She says: ”If you want to save the environment you should protect the people first, because human beings are part of biological diversity. And if we can’t protect our own species, what’s the point of protecting tree species? It sometimes looks as if poor people are destroying the environment. But they are so preoccupied with their survival that they are not concerned about the long-term damage they are doing to the environment simply to meet their most basic needs … For example, in certain regions of Kenya, women walk for miles to get firewood from the forests, as there are no trees left nearby. When fuel is in short supply, women have to walk further and further to find it. Hot meals are served less frequently, nutrition suffers, and hunger increases. If these women had enough resources they would not be depleting valuable forest”.
She says also: “Since the beginning of this century, there has been a clear tendency to cut down indigenous forests and to replace them with exotic species for commercial exploitation. We’ve now become more aware of what this involves and have realized that it was wrong to cut down indigenous forests, thereby destroying our rich biological diversity. But much damage has already been done”. (See both on this UNESCO page).
Wangari Maathai – Kenya
She works for Africa’s Green Belt Movement.
Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression – nationally and internationally.
She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation. Maathai combines science, social commitment and active politics. More than simply protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to secure and strengthen the very basis for ecologically sustainable development. She founded the Green Belt Movement where, for nearly thirty years, she has mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees. Her methods have been adopted by other countries as well. We are all witness to how deforestation and forest loss have led to desertification in Africa and threatened many other regions of the world – in Europe too. Protecting forests against desertification is a vital factor in the struggle to strengthen the living environment of our common Earth. Through education, family planning, nutrition and the fight against corruption, the Green Belt Movement has paved the way for development at grass-root level. We believe that Maathai is a strong voice speaking for the best forces in Africa to promote peace and good living conditions on that continent. Wangari Maathai will be the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. She will also be the first African from the vast area between South Africa and Egypt to be awarded the prize. She represents an example and a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace. (See the whole text on NobelPrize.org).
On a winter day in 1999, Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai was doing what comes naturally to her: planting trees. As in Thailand, where a Buddhist monk who protected trees by ordaining them was thrown in jail, Maathai’s activities made the authorities uneasy. The seedlings that Maathai and her cohorts in the Green Belt Movement were attempting to plant replaced trees felled by real estate developers, whose private security guards were reportedly behind an attack that left Maathai’s head gashed and many of her supporters injured.(Read the whole long article on Find Articles.com).
And she says: “The other important issue is that the East African environment is very vulnerable. We are very close to the Sahara desert, and experts have been warning that the desert could expand southwards like a flood if we keep on felling trees indiscriminately, since trees prevent soil erosion caused by rain and wind. By clearing remaining patches of forests we are in essence creating many micro-Sahara deserts. We can already see evidence of this phenomenon”. (See on this UNESCO page).
Wangari Maathai is the Founder of Africa’s Green Belt Movement and Kenya’s Assistant Minister for the Environment. In 2004 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She has also been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential leaders in the world. She explains how holistic thinking can help build effective development strategies for Africa and for the world at large. She also describes what she believes to be the three essential components of sustainable development – peace, democracy and the responsible management of natural resources. Listen to her 4 1/2 minutes video on Big Picture, recorded in December 2004.
She is a member of Kikuyu ethnic group.
In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental non-governmental organization, which has now planted over 30 million trees across the country to prevent soil erosion. She has come to be affectionately called “Tree Woman”. Since then, she has been increasingly active on both environmental and women’s issues. Maathai was also the former chairperson of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake (the National Council of Women of Kenya). In the 1980s her husband divorced her, saying she was too strong-minded for a woman, and that he was unable to control her. The judge in the divorce case agreed with the husband. During the regime of President Daniel Arap Moi, she was imprisoned several times and violently attacked for demanding multi-party elections and an end to political corruption and tribal politics. In 1989 Maathai almost single-handedly saved Nairobi’s Uhuru Park by stopping the construction by Moi’s business associates of the 60-story Kenya Times Media Trust business complex. In 1997, in Kenya’s second multi-party elections marred by ethnic violence, she ran for the country’s presidency, but her party withdrew her candidacy. Nevertheless, she was a minor candidate among several contenders. In 2002 Maathai was elected to parliament when the National Rainbow Coalition, which she represented, defeated the ruling party Kenya African National Union. She has been Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife since 2003. She founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya in 2003. On 28 March 2005, she was elected as the first president of the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council. In 2006 she was one of the eight flag bearers at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. Also on May 21, 2006 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by and gave the commencement address at Connecticut College. Her autobiography, Unbowed: One Woman’s Story, was released in September 30, 2006. (Read more on wikipedia).
The first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was praised by the awarding committee as “a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace”. (See more on BBC).
And finally she says: “Until a few years ago, people used to come up to me in the street and whisper ‘I am with you and I am praying for you’. They were so scared of being identified with me that they did not want to be heard. I know a lot of people were afraid of talking to me and being seen with me because they might be punished. I have been a greater positive force by staying here and going through trials and tribulations than if I had gone to other countries. It would have been very different to live in the West and say my country should do this and that. By being here I encourage many more people”. (Read the whole Interview on UNESCO).
- Wangari Maathai, Unbowed, A Memoir, Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0-3072-6348-7;
- Wangari Maathai, The Greenbelt Movement, Sharing the Approach and the Experience, Lantern Books, 2003. ISBN 1-59056-040-X;
- Wangari Maathai, The Canopy of Hope, My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women, and the Environment, Lantern Books, 2002. ISBN 1-59056-002-7;
- Wangari Maathai, Bottom is Heavy Too. Edinburgh Medal Lecture, Edinburgh UP, 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0518-5.
- Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (Paperback).