Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize, died on Sunday night of cancer. She was 71.
A towering figure in Kenya, Maathai was renowned as a fearless social activist and an environmental crusader. Her Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977, planted tens of millions of trees.
Listen to an interview with Maathai here with Krista Tippett.
Krista Tippett of On Being writes that: “Wangari Maathai knows what many in the West have forgotten, that ecological crises are often the hidden root cause of war. She speaks in this interview about the global balance of human and natural resources and shares her thoughts of where God resides.”
Mrs. Maathai, one of the most famous and widely respected women on the continent, wore many hats — environmentalist, feminist, politician, anti-corruption campaigner, human rights advocate, protester and head of the Green Belt Movement she founded. She was as comfortable in the gritty streets of Nairobi’s slums or the muddy hillsides of central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. In 2004, she won the Nobel Peace Prize, with the Nobel committee citing “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” It was a moment of immense pride in Kenya and across Africa.
Her unique insight was that the lives of Kenyans – and, by extension, of people in many other developing countries – would be made better if economic and social progress went hand in hand with environmental protection.
Read more here: BBC News – Wangari Maathai: Death of a visionary.
When Wangari Maathai first came to Britain in 1988 as an almost unknown African social activist, all we knew about her was she was a middle-aged scientist who had been beaten up by the Kenyan government for opposing the development of a Nairobi park, and was working with a group of women planting trees.
She gave a short talk to a few human rights and environmental groups, and within half an hour probably changed the agenda for a generation of activists who, until then, had barely considered poverty in Africa to be part of the global debate.
Her fierce denunciation of the rich north, that day, was shocking: “The top of the pyramid is blinded by insatiable appetites backed by scientific knowledge, industrial advancement, the need to acquire, accumulate and over-consume. The rights of those at the bottom are violated every day by those at the top,” she said.