Wangari Muta Maathai, surrounded by her family, suddenly departed these
mortal shores on 25 September 2011 in a Nairobi hospital. She will be missed
for many reasons because she led an active life that stood up to power,
supported the oppressed and fought for the respect on nature.

Wangari Maathai was born on April 1, 1940 in the village of Ihithe, near
Nyeri, in Kenya. She completed her secondary education at Loreto Girls¹ High
School in 1959 and went on to obtain a bachelor¹s degree in biological
sciences at Mount St. Scholastica (now Benedictine College) in Atchison,
Kansas, USA. In 1966 she earned a master¹s degree at the University of
Pittsburgh. Still in pursuit of higher education, she received a Ph.D in
Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi in 1971. She was the first
woman in east and central Africa to attain this feat. She was also the first
to be appointed a professor in her field of study.

While being involved with some environmental and humanitarian organizations
in Nairobi in the 1970s Professor Maathai became concerned about the
deteriorating socio-environmental conditions in which the poor, rural
Kenyans lived. She learned how the women lacked firewood for cooking and
heating, how they struggled to obtain clean water ad how nutritious food was
hard to get. This is when she lit unto the idea of tree planting as a
solution to the web of problems confronting the women and the rural poor.

This was when the seeds that later on germinated as the Green Belt Movement
by 1977 were sown. The women learned that trees provide wood for cooking,
fodder for livestock, and material for fencing; stabilize soils and protect

To her credit, Professor Maathai mobilized men and women to plant over 47
million trees in her lifetime. These have helped to restore degraded
environments and uplift the quality of life of many.

The struggle for a better environment drew Prof Maathai into the political
arena where she confronted the dictatorial regime of President Arap Moi in
the 1980s and 1990s. These manifested in her campaign against the erection
of a skyscraper in Uhuru Park in Nairobi and the grabbing of public land in
Karura Forest close to Nairobi city centre. She stood with mothers of
political prisoners in a yearlong series of vigils and saw the release of 51
men from government¹s gulag.

She suffered personal attacks, arrests, incarceration and insults in the
course of her campaigns for democracy in Kenya. She was elected Member of
Parliament for Tetu at the elections of  December 2002. That election was
hailed by some as the first free-and-fair elections in Kenya for a
generation. Her political career continued with her being appointed Deputy
Minister for Environment in 2003 by President Mwai Kibaki. She raised her
voice for peace, accountability and justice in the violence that followed
the contested 2007 Kenyan elections.

Her achievements include the work she did with the GBM and other allies to
ensure that the new Kenyan constitution, ratified by a public vote in 2010,
was prepared on a consultative basis and that it included the right of all
citizens to a clean and healthy environment.

In 2006 Professor Maathai joined with the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP) to launch a campaign to plant a billion trees around the
world. After meeting that goal in less than a year a new the target of 14
billion trees was set.

Professor Wangari Maathai was a women who stood out and drew positive
attention to Africa while fighting to better the lot of her people and the
environment. She was the first African Nobel Peace Laureate (2004); an
environmentalist of note; a scientist; parliamentarian; founder of the Green
Belt Movement; advocate for social justice, human rights, and democracy;
elder; and peacemaker. She won several other awards including some bestowed
on her by governments include: the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan, 2009),
the Legion D¹Honneur (France, 2006), and Elder of the Golden Heart and Elder
of the Burning Spear (Kenya, 2004, 2003). Professor Maathai also received
awards from many organizations and institutions throughout the world,
including: the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (2007), the
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award (2006),
the Sophie Prize (2004), the Goldman Prize (1991), the Right Livelihood
Award (1984); and honorary doctorates from Yale University and Morehouse
College in the U.S., Ochanomizu University in Japan, and the University of
Norway, among others.

Her books reveal key milestones in her life and struggles: The Green Belt
Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (2003); Unbowed (2006),
her autobiography; The Challenge for Africa (2008), and Replenishing the
Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (2010).

Professor Maathai is survived by her three children‹Waweru, Wanjira, and
Muta, and her granddaughter, Ruth Wangari.

³Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many
times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what
I have always tried to do.²

³You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform
them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that
they must protect them.²

If no one applauds this great woman of Africa, the tress surely will.

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