World mourns eco-warrior Wangari Maathai

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.

NB – You, the reader, can also post your tribute below.

11 Replies to “World mourns eco-warrior Wangari Maathai”

  1. Huge loss!!! I cant even describe the loss im feeling, its just too much. RIP Wangari Maathai. Heartfelt condolences to her family. I pray to have courage like u did. Oh God create many like her.

  2. She had to go but, all in all
    she did her part and we salute her for that am honored that she came
    from Kenya and honored globally, may God rest her soul in peace, it myt
    be sad but all we can say thank You God for giving us such a great human
    bieng in our Land

  3. Many are born, so do many shall die, but what legacy one leaves Earth determines who you will be in peoples memories. Maathai was a mother to a nation that was full of greedy, self-loathing leaders who don’t care much about themselves and their offspring. “Women are responsible for their children, they cannot sit back, waste time and see them starve.” it epitomises her beliefs for protecting the next generation.

    she will be missed by a generation she enlightened and now that she’s gone, its upto the youth to safeguard their future and not compromise on it as its the only you can look upto. Bye MUM.

    Kelvin, Kenyan Youth

  4. Your were my mentor mama, you were heroine, you died a fighter, you liberated women, you spoke for the voiceless , a conservationist and you left a world a better place for us and future generation. REST IN PEACE. We honour and salute you. We will continue with your good work.

  5. Kenya and indeed the world lost heroine, a true African mother, a saviour of nature. May the Good Lord rest her soul in eternal peace, because she deserves just that.

  6. We will miss your presence Mama Kenya and the world.The sway of leaves on branches remains our reminder for what you have done.

  7. She was an icon, a role model, a defender of the weak and poor, a link between the high/ mighty and the weak/ down trodden. I attended several of her environmental lectures and talks and she was very very informative and bright. Above all Wangari was encouraging and always pushed people to realize their potential and give it their all. May God rest her soul in eternal peace.

    Thank you Mama Wangari for being such a role model for us.

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