Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai (born April 1, 1940 in Ihithe village, Tetu division, Nyeri District of Kenya) is an environmental and political activist. In 2004 she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. She is of Kikuyu ethnicity.
Maathai went to Ihithe Primary School before moving to Loreto Convent Secondary School in Limuru.
After finishing school in Kenya, Maathai studied Biology in the United States and Germany. She received her Bachelor's degree in biology from Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in 1964, and her Master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, before returning to Nairobi. There, at the University of Nairobi, she earned the first Ph.D. awarded to an Eastern African woman (in veterinary medicine). In 1971, she became professor of veterinary anatomy at the University of Nairobi, and then later dean of her faculty. In 2002 Maathai accepted a position as Visiting Fellow at Yale University's Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry.
Activism and political lifeEdit
In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental non-governmental organization, which has now planted over 40 million trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion. She has come to be affectionately called "Tree Woman" or "The Tree Mother of Africa." Since then, she has been increasingly active on both environmental and women's issues.
Maathai was also the former chairperson of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake (the National Council of Women of Kenya). In the 1980s her husband Mwangi Mathai, a politician whom she had married in 1969, divorced her, saying she was too strong-minded for a woman and that he was unable to control her. The judge in the divorce case agreed with the husband, and Wangari was put in jail for speaking out against the judge, who then decreed that she must drop her husband's surname. In defiance, Wangari chose to add an extra "a" instead.
During the regime of President Daniel arap Moi, she was imprisoned several times and violently attacked for demanding multi-party elections and an end to political corruption and tribal politics. In 1989 Maathai almost single-handedly saved Nairobi's Uhuru Park by stopping the construction by Moi's business associates of the 60-story Kenya Times Media Trust business complex.
In 1997, in Kenya's second multi-party elections marred by ethnic violence, she ran for the country's presidency, but her party withdrew her candidacy. Nevertheless, she was a minor candidate among several contenders.
In 2002 Maathai was elected to parliament when the National Rainbow Coalition, which she represented, defeated the ruling party Kenya African National Union. She has been Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife since 2003. She founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya in 2003.
In 2006 she was one of the eight flag bearers at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. Also on May 21, 2006 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by and gave the commencement address at Connecticut College. She supported the International Year of Deserts and Desertification program. In November 2006, she spearheaded the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign.
In 2006, Maathai was one of the founders of The Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world.
In January 2007 Maathai hosted the Global Young Greens conference in Nairobi, where more than 120 young delegates of environmental, civil rights, peace and social justice youth movements as well as youth organisations of green parties from all over the world are expected to come.
On January 28, 2007, Maathai returned to Benedictine College for the first time in over 15 years and spoke to the students at her alma mater.
She also endorsed the Forests Now Declaration, calling for new market-based mechanisms to protect forests.
Maathai was defeated in Party of National Unity's primary elections for its parliamentary candidates in November 2007 and chose to instead run as the candidate of a smaller party. She was, however, defeated in the December 2007 parliamentary election. She subsequently called for a recount of votes in the presidential election (officially won by Kibaki, but disputed by the opposition) in her constituency, saying that both sides should feel the outcome was fair and that there were indications of fraud.
Her autobiography, Unbowed: One Woman’s Story, was released in September 30, 2006.
Nobel Peace PrizeEdit
"Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement announcing her as the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. "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."
Controversy arose after the announcement of the Nobel award, when, according to Radio Free Europe, "News media in Africa — including the Standard — [...] have reported that Maathai has claimed HIV/AIDS was deliberately created by Western scientists to decimate the African population." Radio Free Europe also reported that "Maathai denied making such allegations" and that "The Standard has stood by its reports." 
In a 2004 interview with Time Magazine, in response to the question, "You've said that AIDS is a biological weapon manufactured by the developing world to wipe out black people. Do you still believe that?" Maathai replied, "I have no idea who created AIDS and whether it is a biological agent or not. But I do know things like that don't come from the moon. I have always thought that it is important to tell people the truth, but I guess there is some truth that must not be too exposed," and when asked what she meant, she continued, "I'm referring to AIDS. I am sure people know where it came from. And I'm quite sure it did not come from the monkeys."
In response she issued the following statement:
- 1984: Right Livelihood Award (a.k.a. "Alternative Nobel Prize")
- 1987: Global 500 Roll of Honour
- 1991: Goldman Environmental Prize
- 1991: Africa Prize
- 1993: Edinburgh Medal (for "Outstanding contribution to Humanity through Science")
- 2004: Petra Kelly Prize
- 2004: Sophie Prize
- 2004: Nobel Peace Prize
- 2006: Légion d'honneur
- 2007: World Citizenship Award
- 2007: Indira Gandhi Prize
- Max Andrews (Ed.): Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook. London, Royal Society of Arts, 2006 ISBN 978-0-901469-57-1 (Interview with Wangari Maathai)
- Wangari Maathai, Unbowed: A Memoir, Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0-307-26348-7
- Wangari Maathai, The Greenbelt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience, Lantern Books, 2003. ISBN 1-59056-040-X
- Wangari Maathai, The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women, and the Environment, Lantern Books, 2002. ISBN 1-59056-002-7
- Wangari Maathai, Bottom is Heavy Too: Edinburgh Medal Lecture, Edinburgh UP, 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0518-5
- Women's Environment & Development Organization
- Marion Institute
- Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-IV), 2008.
- Black Nobel Prize laureates
- Official Site: The Green Belt Movement and Wangari Maathai
- Wangari Maathai and the Billion Tree Campaign
- Feature on Wangari Maathai by the International Museum of Women
- Wangari Maathai presents a talk as a part of the Architecture and Climate Change lecture series held by the Royal Institute of British Architects
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