Maathai is known to most as a pioneer and advocate of environmental
action, and a gender-rights activist who is widely respected in
East Africa. To the delight of environmentalists worldwide, and
the people of Kenya, in particular, she was chosen as Assistant
Minister of Environment by the newly elected Kenyan government.
But Professor Maathai sees herself in a different light:
" I am an activist in
office, this is who I am. Nevertheless, I am happy that after
a long struggle I do not have to lobby and appeal to the government
to take action. I am in the government. This is a huge responsibility,
but it is also such a joy to be able to put what I have been appealing
for into action.
As someone who has been working on the environment
for so many years, I realize that advocating better environmental
governance in Africa is the secret to long-term solutions to many
problems related to sustainable development. The people must be
empowered. They must be educated and made aware. We must put in
their hands the tools and skills to enable them to improve their
livelihoods. But this is only one side of the coin. The other
side is that development is impossible if the common goods are
not protected. They might not have a price tag on them, but the
value of natural and environmental resources cannot be determined
in dollars and cents. Nurturing the environment must be a priority
for African governments, because by doing that we are nurturing
development on the long term.
Our recent experience in Kenya gives hope to all
who have been struggling for a better future. It shows it is possible
to bring about positive change, and still do it peacefully. All
it takes is courage and perseverance, and a belief that positive
change is possible. That is why the slogan for our campaign was
"Yote Yaawezekana!" or "It is Possible!"