Wangarĩ Maathai

(1940-2011) – Social, Environmental and Political Activist

Wangarĩ Muta Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental and a political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She studied in the USA, earning a bachelor’s degree from Mount St. Scholastica and a master’s from the University of Pittsburgh. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to become a Doctor of Philosophy, receiving her PhD from the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organisation focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation and women’s rights. In 1984, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for ‘converting the Kenyan ecological debate into mass action for reforestation’. Maathai was an elected member of the Parliament of Kenya and from January 2003 to November 2005 served as assistant minister for environment and natural resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki. She was an Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council. As an academic and the author of several books, Maathai has made significant contributions to thinking about ecology, development, gender and African cultures and religions. Maathai died of complications from ovarian cancer in 2011.

A true campaigner who worked for her people and, in doing so, worked for the world.

Sharmilla Beezmohun

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