We at SUPAFRIK, along with all of you, mourn the loss of our mother, our fearless environmentalist, our incorruptible politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and unapologetic activist Dr. Wangari Maathai who passed away at the age of 71 after a quiet bout with cancer. Often described as one of the strongest and most nuanced critics of the economic policies promoted by Britain, the World Bank, and the west Dr. Wangari Maathai’s tireless advocacy and autobiography Unbowed ushered the work of the Green Belt Movement into global consciousnesses.Persistent that this was not a movement that was her own Dr. Maathai stood along side thousands of rural Kenyan women as a part of a movement that resisted the influence of environmental degradation on the lives of women in her community and throughout Kenya. Dr. Maathai started with with one tree and one tree became many. She started with a few women and they became a movement. Unbowed reflected Dr. Maathai’s unwavering integrity and dedication. She was dedicated to communities and the ground, air, water, and plant life that all communities live on. She recognized that air, water, and soil are as political as parliament and asked us to march for the right to enjoy them in their purest and most equitable state. She vehemently opposed privatization and challenged the world to recognize the importance of a full and thriving natural environment.
Dr. Maathai believed that those pushed to the margins had the power and right to transform their own society and ultimately promote change throughout the globe. The planting of the 13 million trees through the Green Belt Movement by thousands of women became a symbol of that belief. In her lifetime Dr. Maathai was a fearless advocate for The Continent and remained consistently critical of global policies that repressed the inherent strength and promise of communities. We will miss Dr. Maathai and hopefully recognize that the only way to truly honor her is to take up after her and march, with the memory of her life’s work in heart and hand.
Quotes from Dr. Wangari Maathai:
“The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. You cannot sustain the economy if you don’t take care of the environment because we know that the resources that we use whether it is oil, energy, land … all of these are the basis in which development happens. And development is what we say generates a good economy and puts money in our pockets. If we cannot sustain the environment, we can’t not sustain ourselves.”
“The top of the pyramid is blinded by insatiable appetites backed by scientific knowledge, industrial advancement, the need to acquire, accumulate and over-consume. The rights of those at the bottom are violated every day by those at the top,”
“The economic and political systems are designed to create more numbers, population pressures show no sign of waning, deforestation and desertification continue. The people at the top of the pyramid do not understand the limits to growth and they do not appreciate that they jeopardize the capacity of future generations to meet their own needs.”