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Poverty alleviation, the environment, sustainable development in a globalized world

Governing Council/Global
Ministerial Environment Forum
22nd Session
Nairobi, Kenya
3-7 February 2003

Highlights : GC Profiles

Yote Yawezekana!!
Interview with Wangari Maathai

Wangari 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!"