Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011): Tree planter, activist, visionary and mother

Wangari Muta Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011)

“We are very fond of blaming the poor for destroying the environment. But often it is the powerful, including governments, that are responsible.”

That was a typical remark by Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan environmental and political activist who has just died.

In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organisation focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights.

In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

The Green Belt Movement in a profile about their founder counted the many roles she played: environmentalist; scientist; parliamentarian; founder of the Green Belt Movement; advocate for social justice, human rights, and democracy; elder; and Nobel Peace Laureate.

“”It is the people who must save the environment. It is the people who must make their leaders change. And we cannot be intimidated. So we must stand up for what we believe in,” Wangari Maathai kept saying.

As a tribute, I have assembled a few links to interesting online videos featuring her.

Taking Root, a long format documentary, tells the dramatic story of Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy—a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.

TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai Trailer on PBS YouTube channel:

Wangari Maathai & The Green Belt Movement, short film by StridesinDevelopment:

Riz Khan’s One on One: Wangari Maathai: Part 1
Interview with Al Jazeera English first broadcast on 19 Jan 2008

“I will be a hummingbird” – Wangari Maathai

Two more memorable quotes from her to inspire us all:

“I have always believed that, no matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for.”

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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