Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tribute to Wangari Maathai - Kenya's Best Known Woman

RIP Dr. Wangari Maathai
Last month I posted a series of stories of Dr. Maathai, not knowing that she was in and out of hospital as she battled ovarian cancer.  On Sunday, September 25, 2011 this dynamic woman who inspired many of us young women succumbed to the cancer. Her death is a loss to so many of us who grew up under the oppressive regime of a despot ruler but learnt that we had a voice and could speak in one voice.

I still remember in the 1980s when Dr. Maathai (known to many of us as Mama Wangari or Mum) led hundreds of mostly women to protest Moi's government plans to erect a 62-story headquarters for the then ruling party. I so wanted to join the protests but was too young and my parents would not hear of it. But I raised my voice even then within the family in support of this amazing woman. She fought the then President Daniel Arap Moi fearlessly even as she campaigned for the environment and women's rights in Kenya. 

She taught and encouraged women to plant trees
Her fortitude and passion inspired a generation of Kenyan activist in the 1990s, particularly women, to believe that even though the Kenyan constitution which then considered women as "second class citizens", our voices could bring down a dictatorship. Her fight and unwavering determination succeeded in forcing changes to policies passed down by government official who until then were not accustomed to being questioned. It was this kind of fight which also won her the first Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to an African women, in 2004.

She is not only Kenya's best known woman but also a national hero.

Dr. Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, started in 1977 with the aim of halting widespread deforestation. The organization has grown to become one of the largest grassroots movements in Africa and a vehicle for empowering women. She declared that, "... by protecting the environment, these women are also becoming powerful champions for sustainable management of scarce resources such as water, equitable economic development, good political governance, and ultimately… peace".

She was a woman who embraced and effortlessly lived her authentic self. She was living her destiny and understood her purpose. Her message was clear, her convictions and passions real and overt. She taught, listened and counseled those who were willing and open to learn and grow authentically. Her impact was global.

Mama Wangari's legacy lives on.

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