Wangari Maathai received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on sustainable development, democracy and peace. That year’s Peace Prize winner made history in two ways: She was the first to receive the award for environmental work related to conflict prevention, and she was the first African female winner. Furthermore, she was the first African south of Egypt and north of South Africa to win the prize.
"Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the forefront of the fight to promote ecologically-viable social, economic, and cultural development in Kenya and Africa. She takes a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights, and especially women's rights. She thinks globally and acts locally," said the Nobel Committee at the 2004 announcement.
FOKUS’ collaboration with Wangari Maathai stretches back to the 1989 Telethon "Women in the 3rd world." Through working together with The Green Belt Movement, we got to know a fearless leader who expressed clearly what she meant. She was named Africa's most outspoken environmental activist.
The Green Belt Movement was founded by Maathai in 1977 to improve women's livelihood by giving them increased access to clean water and firewood. The main purpose of the organization was to encourage the poor to think about the environment in order to improve their own situation, including by planting trees to save large areas of Kenya from becoming a desert. Over the years, they have planted tens of millions of trees and spread their message to a number of other African countries. The organization has gradually evolved into an organization that also fights for human rights and democracy for the poor in Kenya.
“Her death is untimely and a very great loss to all who knew her—as a mother, relative, co-worker, colleague, role model, and heroine; or who admire her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier, and better place,” writes Karanja Njorege of the Green Belt Movement in a statement.
Wangari Maathai was one of the world's greatest women leaders; she paved the way for putting the women's struggle for climate on the agenda. She opened the eyes of the world to the courage, strength, and wisdom of African women. Maathai was the guide who built the path that makes it easier for the rest of us to follow.
“With Wangari Maathai’s passing, we have lost an important voice and an uncompromising advocate for women, the environment, and sustainable development. It is now up to us to ensure that her important work continues and that women in the Global South are further empowered,” adds Gro Lindstad, the Director of the Forum for Women and Development.