World mourns eco-warrior Wangari Maathai

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Barack Obama, US President and Nobel Laureate 2009
It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Professor Wangari Maathai. On behalf of all Americans, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to Professor Maathai’s family and the people of Kenya at this difficult time. The world mourns with you and celebrates the extraordinary life of this remarkable woman who devoted her life to peacefully protecting what she called “our common home and future.”

The work of the Greenbelt Movement stands as a testament to the power of grassroots organizing, proof that one person’s simple idea – that a community should come together to plant trees – can make a difference, first in one village, then in one nation, and now across Africa. Professor Maathai’s tireless efforts earned her not only a Nobel Peace Prize and numerous prestigious awards, but the respect of millions who were inspired by her commitment to conservation, democracy, women’s empowerment, the eradication of poverty, and civic engagement.

Professor Maathai further advanced these objectives through her service in the Kenyan government, the African Union, and the United Nations. As she told the world, “we must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.” Her legacy will stand as an example to all of us to persist in our pursuit of progress.

Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate 1993
It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of this exceptional environmental activist.  We were honoured in 2005 to have had Prof Maathai, then deputy minister of Environment in Kenya, deliver the Third Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

“We need people who love Africa so much that they want to protect her from destructive processes,” she said in her address. “There are simple actions we can take. Start by planting 10 trees we each need to absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale. Practise the 3R campaign (reduce, re-use, repair and re-use, which is mottainai in Japanese), get involved in local initiatives and volunteer your time for services in your community. Governments should prioritise technical schools and give people knowledge and skills for self-employment.”

Prof Maathai has left a lasting legacy in greater awareness and work in protecting our environment and the world.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate 1984
She understood and acted on the inextricable links between poverty, rights and environmental sustainability. One can but marvel at her foresight and the scope of her success. She was a true African heroine.

Our condolences go to Professor Maathai’s family, to the people of Kenya, and to the countless women (and men) across Africa and the world to whom she was an inspiration.

President Mwai Kibaki
Professor Maathai was also a hardworking person who always had time for the less privileged in the country. In this regard, the late Nobel Laureate was at the forefront in advocating for women empowerment, especially at the grassroots level.

In politics, the late Professor Maathai will be remembered for the role she played in agitating for political reforms that paved the way for the country’s second liberation. In her quest to serve Kenyans in different spheres, the late Professor Maathai vied and became the Member of Parliament for Tetu and an assistant minister in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Socially, the late Professor Maathai was an amiable person and those who interacted with her benefited from her wisdom and generosity.

Kalonzo Musyoka, Vice President
The Vice President who worked with Prof Maathai as his assistant when he was minister for environment described the late laureate as an accomplished environmentalist, scientist and a human rights crusader whose steadfastness earned her respect locally and internationally.

Her steadfastness and commitment to human rights and the environment made her famous here and across the globe, culminating in her being awarded with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. It’s really sad that she has left. Indeed, it is a difficult time in Kenya’s history.

The Vice President recalled how closely he worked with the late Prof Maathai adding that as her minister, he accompanied her to Norway for the award.

He described her death as not only a loss to her relatives, but also to the country and the international community.

Raila Odinga, Prime Minister
Maathai’s death is one of such happenings that leaves a nation with little to say; that strikes at the core of our nation’s heart.

Hers has been heroism easily recognised locally and abroad, one attained in her life time and therefore not left to historians to interpret. The death occurred just when the causes she long fought for were just beginning to get the attention they deserved as threats to the survival of the human race and that of our planet.

Achim Steiner UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director
Wangari Maathai was a force of nature. While others deployed their power and life force to damage, degrade and extract short term profit from the environment, she used hers to stand in their way, mobilise communities and to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction.

Professor Maathai was one of Africa’s foremost environmental campaigners, internationally recognised for her commitment to democracy, human rights and conservation.

She was, like the acacias and the Prunus Africana trees Wangari fought so nobly and assiduously to conserve, strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions. She was also immovable in the face of ignorance, political gamesmanship and wanton environmental destruction.

Zain Verjee, CNN Anchor
I’m often asked who has been an inspiration in my life and my career. The answer I’ve always given is Wangari Maathai.
I will forever remember and appreciate her friendship, her advice, her wide smile, her beautiful bright Kenyan outfits, the warmth and support she would show me, the endless compliments she would pay me for being a Kenyan at CNN as she would tightly hold my hand.  Wangari was a role model for me, and someone who touched and motivated me to create new possibilities for myself no matter what the odds were.   To her daughters and granddaughter today, I say “pole sana”, my condolences in Swahili.  She was truly special spirit.

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