Professor Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist, died on 25th September. In 2004 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, peace and democracy, the first environmentalist and the first African woman to do so. This post is simply to pay respects to her from the Pacific region, with which she undoubtedly had common cause.
Professor Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, the mission of which is, according to its web site: “to mobilize community consciousness- using tree planting as an entry point- for self-determination, equity, improved livelihoods and security, and environmental conservation.
She then served served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. She had earlier become also the first East African woman (and the first of many) to gain a doctorate, in 1971, studying in Germany, US and Kenya.
According to Joseph Kabiru, she was: “a thorn in the side of the Kenyan authorities – ‘that woman’, they used to call her – and was never afraid to speak the truth to the most powerful world leaders when they dragged their feet on climate change”.
Former United Nations Secretary-general Kofi Annan said that “Wangari was a courageous leader. Her energy and life-long dedication to improve the lives and livelihoods of people will continue to inspire generations of young.”