Professor Wangari Maathai is Africa’s foremost environmental campaigner. She is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. In 2004 the Nobel Prize Committee recognized her lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women by awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize.
In its salutation, the Nobel Prize Committee said: “Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.”
The Nobel Peace Prize goes alongside many other accolades Professor Maathai has received over the years, including the Goldman Environment Prize and the Sophie Prize, which she received in March 2004 “for her fearless fight for the protection of the environment, human rights and promotion of democratic governance in Kenya.” Professor Maathai is also a long-standing jury member of the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.
Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.
Professor Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya in 1976–87 and was its chairman in 1981–87. It was while she served in the National Council of Women that she introduced the idea of planting trees with the people in 1976 and continued to develop it into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life.
Through the Green Belt Movement she has assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds. In 1986, the Green Belt Movement established a Pan African Green Belt Network and has exposed over 40 individuals from other African countries to the approach. Some of these individuals have established similar tree planting initiatives in their own countries or they use some of the Green Belt Movement methods to improve their efforts.
In September 1998, Professor Maathai launched a campaign of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. She has embarked on new challenges, playing a leading global role as a co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, which seeks cancellation of the unpayable backlog debts of the poor countries in Africa by the year 2000.
Her campaign against land grabbing and rapacious allocation of forests land made her a national heroine in Kenya. In 2002 she became Kenya’s Assistant Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.
She has addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the commission for Global Governance and Commission on the Future.
Wangari Maathai Coordinator The Green Belt Movement P. O. Box 67545 Nairobi, 00200 'Kenya '