4 Oct 2011

Wangari Maathai: what an inspiration

The Green Party is celebrating the life of Wangari Maathai - the founder and leader of the Mazingira Green Party in Kenya who passed away on 25th September. Maathai was an environmental and political activist whose contributions to sustainable development, democracy, and peace will never be forgotten.

I have for sometime been in correspondence with a Kenyan woman who has been interested in getting into politics in her country - it has been an interesting insight into politics there for me. This is what she sent regarding Maathai when I emailed her with condolences which she has given permission for me to copy here:

"Thanks Philip. I only pray that my people will live as she desired for us to. She showed us that it did not take much to make a difference, that we only needed to believe and act in our little ways. Her selflessness, is most admirable about her. I pray that I can at least emulate her selflessness and determination. We are a better people because she was one of us. May she rest in peace, and may the world allow her to rest in peace by practising her ideals. Best, Achieng' "

Indeed. Maathai was an inspiration to many of us.

In 2002, Maathai, who died aged 71, was elected to the Kenyan Parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote in the first free election held in the country in decades. Not long after, she was appointed Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources, where she served for three years.

Maathai also founded Green Belt Movement, an environmental organisation focused on planting trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. For this, she became the first African woman - as well as the first environmentalist - to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Maathai's female-based Green Belt Movement planted over 30 million trees and received numerous awards, including the Petra Kelly Prize for Environment, named for the founder of the first Green Party in Germany; Japan's Order of the Rising Sun; the L├ęgion d'honneur, the highest decoration in France; and the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights!

In a statement announcing her as the Nobel Prize winner, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said:
"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."

She was a friend to Greens around the world and in May 2008 hosted a Global Greens conference in Nairobi. Her contributions to the international green movement and "the betterment of mother earth" will be forever remembered. See Gaia Foundation here and Daily Telegraph here.

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