|Wangari Muta Maathai|
Wangari Maathai holding a trophy awarded to her by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
(1940-04-01)1 April 1940
Ihithe village, Tetu division, Nyeri District, Kenya (then known as Nyeri, Kenya Colony)
|Died||25 September 2011(2011-09-25) (aged 71)
|Occupation||Environmentalist, political activist, writer|
|Known for||Green Belt Movement|
|Awards||Nobel Peace Prize (2004)
Indira Gandhi Peace Prize (2006)
That’s the way I do things when I want to celebrate, I always plant a tree. And so I got an indigenous tree, called Nandi flame, it has this beautiful red flowers. When it is in flower it is like it is in flame.
When resources are degraded, we start competing for them, whether it is at the local level in Kenya, where we had tribal clashes over land and water, or at the global level, where we are fighting over water, oil, and minerals. So one way to promote peace is to promote sustainable management and equitable distribution of resources.
There’s a general culture in this country to cut all the trees. It makes me so angry because everyone is cutting and no one is planting.
And so I’m saying that, yes, colonialism was terrible, and I describe it as a legacy of wars, but we ought to be moving away from that by now.
For me, one of the major reasons to move beyond just the planting of trees was that I have tendency to look at the causes of a problem. We often preoccupy ourselves with the symptoms, whereas if we went to the root cause of the problems, we would be able to overcome the problems once and for all.
I know there is pain when sawmills close and people lose jobs, but we have to make a choice. We need water and we need these forests.
You cannot blame the mismanagement of the economy or the fact that we have not invested adequately in education in order to give our people the knowledge, the skills and the technology that they need in order to be able to use the resources that Africa has to gain wealth.
It was easy to persecute me without people feeling ashamed. It was easy to vilify me and project me as a woman who was not following the tradition of a ‘good African woman’ and as a highly educated elitist who was trying to show innocent African women ways of doing things that were not acceptable to African men.
Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.
It would be good for us Africans to accept ourselves as we are and recapture some of the positive aspects of our culture.
It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.
In Kenya women are the first victims of environmental degradation, because they are the ones who walk for hours looking for water, who fetch firewood, who provide food for their families.
But when you have bad governance, of course, these resources are destroyed: The forests are deforested, there is illegal logging, there is soil erosion. I got pulled deeper and deeper and saw how these issues become linked to governance, to corruption, to dictatorship.
I think what the Nobel committee is doing is going beyond war and looking at what humanity can do to prevent war. Sustainable management of our natural resources will promote peace.
We are very fond of blaming the poor for destroying the environment. But often it is the powerful, including governments, that are responsible.
I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it. I think that is what I would call the God in me.
I am working to make sure we don’t only protect the environment, we also improve governance.
Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys from time immemorial, others say it was a curse from God, but I say it cannot be that.
When you think of all the conflicts we have – whether those conflicts are local, whether they are regional or global – these conflicts are often over the management, the distribution of resources. If these resources are very valuable, if these resources are scarce, if these resources are degraded, there is going to be competition.
It is important to nurture any new ideas and initiatives which can make a difference for Africa.
All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet.
When I first started, it was really an innocent response to the needs of women in rural areas. When we started planting trees to meet their needs, there was nothing beyond that. I did not see all the issues that I have to come to deal with.
Women are responsible for their children, they cannot sit back, waste time and see them starve.
African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.
In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.
We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.
It’s a matter of life and death for this country. The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem.