In 2004, Wangari Maathai of Kenya became the first environmentalist and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She got it for 3 decades of hard work in the Green Belt Movement she founded, which has planted 30 million trees in Kenya, helping prevent soil erosion and desertification and providing education and jobs for people who desperately need them. The Green Belt Movement encouraged in people who’d felt powerless an active interest in justice, in fighting for what they and the environment deserve and against “land grabbing” and exploiting of natural resources.
There was a deep care for the land and people of Africa in Wangari Maathai which enabled her to persist against formidable opponents—corrupt government officials and corporations, being lied-about and jailed. Unbowed is the title of her 2006 memoir. Meanwhile, she had the question of how to see the very people she was encouraging—how to make sense of ways she was for them and against them.
Wangari Maathai was born in 1940 in the central highlands of Kenya, the third of six children, and grew up in a traditional dwelling of earthen walls and thatched roof in her family’s compound, on land that belonged to a British wheat farmer for whom her father worked as a multi-lingual driver and skilled mechanic. Kenya, once called British East Africa, didn’t achieve independence until she was 23 years old in 1963; meanwhile, foreign investors continue to control and profit from its resources. In her 2009 book TheChallenge for Africa, a chapter is titled “Land Ownership: Whose Land Is It, Anyway?”
There is so much more to her life! Find it, read it (Unbowed), view it (PBS did a p piece on her) treasure it. She was an amazing woman and leaves such a rich legacy.