Monday, 26 September 2011

Wangari Maathai: Africa's first woman Nobel Peace Prize winner

She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004 at the age of 64. A long time taken to be recognised for her deeds in making the world a better place to live.  She was revered by all who met her. She had a lot to say and wasn't afraid to say it.

Today, September 26, 2011, everyone woke to the shocking news of her demise now at 71 from 1940 when she breathed mother earth's beauty and for which she always lived to protect.

She met dignitaries from all over the world and in turn, introduced them to her calling...her people...her neighbors and friends that were:

"Today, Wangari Maathai, you are here in the Oslo Town Hall to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004. We share your joy with you and with your closest relatives and friends who are gathered here. We are also pleased to see so many Kenyans and other Africans in the Town Hall. We have all come together here to pay you our tribute.

Dear mama Wangari Maathai,
You have shown what it means to be a true African mother and a true African woman. Kenya admires you! Africa admires you! The world admires you! May your unceasing fight for the right always remain a source of inspiration for mankind.

I think the announcement has already changed your life. Your name will figure prominently in the history of the Peace Prize, together with the other African Peace Prize Laureates: Albert Lutuli, Anwar Sadat, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Fredrik Willem de Klerk and Kofi Annan. We hope the Peace Prize may be an inspiration for positive change in your beloved Kenya, in Africa, and in the many countries in the world that need to hear your voice. Congratulations on the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004.

You are the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. You will also be the first African from the vast region between South Africa and Egypt to receive the prize. You stand as an example and a source of inspiration to everyone in Africa who is fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace. You are an outstanding role model for all women in Africa and the rest of the world. You bravely opposed the oppressive regime in Kenya. Your unique modes of action put the spotlight on political oppression both nationally and internationally,"  said The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee – Ole Danbolt Mjøs (Oslo, December 10, 2004).

Kofi Annan, "Wangari Maathai will be remembered as a committed champion of the environment, sustainable development, women's rights, and democracy. Her contribution to all these causes will forever be celebrated and honoured. 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 people around the world."

The Norwegian poet Halldis Moren Vesaas  put it so beautifully in her poem "The woman is planting":

The woman is planting a tree in the world.
On her knees, like someone in prayer,
Among the remains of the many trees
That the storm has broken down.
She must try again, perhaps one at last
Will be left to grow in peace.

And this is how Moren Vesaas ends the poem:

She sees the hands outspread on the earth
As if trying to impose her calm
On its threatening tremors. Oh earth, be still,
Be still, so my tree can grow.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, "Once again, our country has woken up today to the sad news of the passing on of a hero of great standing, Prof Wangari Maathai.

Maathai’s death is one of such happenings that leaves a nation with little to say; that strikes at the core of our nation’s heart.

Prof Maathai has passed on just when the causes she long fought for were just beginning to get the attention they deserved as threats to the survival of the human race and that of our planet.

In Kenya, we have lost her at a time we needed real champions for the cause of environment that she long symbolised. We have lost Maathai when we needed champions for better housing and sanitation to replace our slums. 

We all knew her as a voice of reason, a lady who stood above our artificial divisions of race, tribe and region and championed the cause of humanity.

While we all struggle to come to terms with this most untimely tragedy for our nation, Maathai’s death should inspire us to struggle to do good and champion the human cause while we live.

We have many things to do, and one of those things is to complete our, my destiny, which is to teach others about the power of faith, courage, and determination.

President Mwai Kibaki mourns, " It is with a deep sense of sadness and sorrow that I learnt of the death of Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai. On behalf of the government and people of Kenya and on my own behalf I send you this message of sympathy, at this time when we mourn a global icon who has left an indelible mark in the world of environmental conservation.

With the passing on of Professor Maathai, the country and the world has not only lost a renowned environmentalist and but also a great human rights crusader. Indeed in 2004, the late Professor was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her contribution in environmental conservation, good governance, human rights and democracy.

As part of her environmental conservation efforts, the late Professor Maathai started the Green Belt Movement, an NGO that is involved in reforestation programmes throughout the country.
Professor Maathai was also a hardworking person who always had time for the less privileged in the country. In this regard, the late Nobel Laureate was at the forefront in advocating for women empowerment, especially at the grassroots level.

In politics, the late Professor Maathai will be remembered for the role she played in agitating for political reforms that paved the way for the country’s second liberation. In her quest to serve Kenyans in different spheres, the late Professor Maathai vied and became the Member of Parliament for Tetu and an Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Every 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.” she Said.
The power of love for ourselves and for others and how we can make a difference in this world if we just only take a little time from our busy lives.

Prof Wangari Maathai (Nobel Laureate) – Her one regret, motherhood and why she never remarried

I wanted to enclose a few of my favorite sayings from Prof Wangari Maathai...who was big on family and making the world a better place starting from the home. 

On the occasion of the mini-Beijing Women’s Conference, Nairobi, 1995

“In the world there is a new collective force of people mobilising around the issue of peace but linking it to the need to protect the environment. But we must assert our collective vision and responsibility to shape that peace not only for our country but also for the whole of Africa.”

 On receiving the UN Africa Prize for Leadership, 1991
“It is not as if leaders do not understand the impact of the unjust political and economic systems which are promoting environmental degradation and promoting a non-sustainable development model. When will such business be considered unacceptable in the world community?…Africa’s challenges are being tackled at different levels, and some successes have been recorded. But not fast enough. The concepts of sustainable development, appropriate development models, and participatory development are not foreign. We are aware that our children and the future generations have a right to a world which will also need energy, should be free of pollution, should be rich with biological diversity and should have a climate which will sustain all forms of life.”

Africa is a paradox. It is one of the richest continents on the planet, endowed with oil, precious stones, forests, water, wildlife, soil, land, agricultural products, and millions of women and men. Yet most of Africa’s people remain impoverished. I continue to ask myself, “Why?”

One reason is that many Africans lack the knowledge, skills, tools, and the political will to create wealth from their resources. They are unable to add value to raw materials in order to sell processed goods in local and international markets and negotiate better prices and favorable trade rules. Another reason is that ordinary citizens suffer when debts are not cancelled, when financial assistance is not forthcoming, or when trade barriers are raised.

I have also seen the need for ordinary Africans to embrace a set of values, like service for the common good, and commitment, persistence, and patience until a goal is realized. We also need Africans who love Africa so much that they want to protect their countries – their land – from environmentally destructive processes. The transformation of grasslands into deserts due to deforestation, encroachment into forests for subsistence farming, overgrazing, and loss of biodiversity and soil threaten the entire continent.

Another value Africans must adopt is love and concern for young people. One of the most devastating experiences is to see youth wasting away because they are unemployed, even after they have completed secondary and tertiary education, or because their health has deteriorated. African governments should give priority to investments in technical education and HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support programs.

Without skills, people find themselves locked out of productive, rewarding economic activities, leaving them unable to meet their needs for housing, healthcare and nutrition. They get trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and, sometimes, crime.

Africa needs to prepare for the opportunities and challenges to come by deliberately working for peace and security.
Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai speaks in Copenhagen in a December 2009 file photograph. Photograph: Casper Christoffersen/Scanpix/Reuters

When resources are scarce, or so degraded that they can no longer sustain livelihoods, or inequitably distributed, conflict invariably ensues. In Africa, we need to manage our resources sustainably, accountably, and responsibly. And we need to share those resources equitably.

Otherwise, we will continue to invest in wars and conflicts, or in fighting crime and domestic instability, rather than in promoting development and thereby eliminating poverty. African leaders should govern and serve for the benefit of the people, not themselves.

But perhaps the most unrecognized problem in Africa, especially at the grassroots level, is the disempowerment of ordinary people. This is one of the main reasons why so many people are unable to take advantage of the many opportunities available in Africa.

Africa’s people must be allowed to gain confidence, dignity, and a sense of self-worth. They must also be empowered with knowledge, skills, and tools to take action. This is why debt relief is so important. It provides governments additional resources to invest in initiatives that can empower their people.

"I will be a hummingbird" - Wangari Maathai

But much must still be accomplished, by Africans and with Africa’s many friends around the world. As in the Bible story, when Peter and John said to a beggar, rise up and walk,” Africans are called upon to walk away from ignorance, inertia, apathy, and fatalism. To walk towards economic and political freedom. To walk to an Africa free of poverty.

Maathai: World mourns passing of true 'African heroine'