Notable moments of Prof. Wangari Maathai

By , K24 Digital
On Mon, 25 Sep, 2023 13:56 | 2 mins read
Notable moments of Prof. Wangari Maathai
Pro. Wangari Maathai in 1992. PHOTO/Getty Images

Today marks 12 years since Nobel laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai died. Despite her absence, Kenyans continue to enjoy the things she fought for with her dear life.

Maathai is best remembered for environmental conservation and political activism.

Key aspects of Wangari Maathai's life and work include:

Fight for Uhuru Park

Were it not for Maathai, Uhuru Park would not have existed as it is today because of the plan the Kanu government had in store in the late 1980s.

The late Maathai stopped the government of the late retired President Daniel Arap Moi from constructing a 60-storey tower in Uhuru Park.

The then government planned to build a Times Media Complex in Uhuru Park to accommodate Kanu party headquarters, offices, shopping malls and parking for hundreds of cars.

Maathai and other pro-democracy crusaders challenged the government in court and waged an international campaign that culminated in Moi's administration abandoning the Times’s complex plan in February 1990.

Karura Forest

Maathai in 1998 led a campaign against a fraudulent allocation of Karura Forest to private developers in Nairobi by the Kanu regime.

The unbowed environmentalist fought tooth and nail to save Karura Forest from private developers.

In her autography UNBOWED: One Woman's Story, Maathai said she wrote several protest letters to the government to halt any deforestation and grabbing of Karura Forest but she was ignored.

In September 1998, Maathai went to Karura to assess the situation and discovered that a road had already been dug and workers were laying down what looked like a drainage system.

The environmentalist with members of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977 to promote environmental conservation, started planting trees but were attacked and injured by a machete-welding gang of young men who who uprooted the trees they had planted.

The attack on Maathai received universal condemnation. Locally, opposition MPs and Western diplomats voiced concerns about the incident.

The then UN Secretary-General the late Kofi Annan also condemned the beating and the violence that were meted against Maathai and others.

The attack turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Maathai received international media attention which earned her support from all quarters.

The government eventually bowed to the pressure and halted the excision of the Karura forest.

Political activism

The late Nobel Nobel laureate fought the Kanu government on several fronts - environmental conservation and political space.

In 1992, Maathai joined mothers and relatives of political prisoners in detention at Uhuru Park for a hunger strike to press for the release of their kin.

Police forcefully dispersed Maathai and other protesters in an attack that was marred by violence and bloodshed.

The late activist sustained injuries during the police attack.

The violent beatings of the mothers and their supporters made newspaper headlines sparking riots across Nairobi.

Civil societies and opposition groups joined forces to mount pressure on the government to release political prisoners.

For months, the mothers held daily meetings outside the All Saints Cathedral church in Nairobi to speak to supporters as they pressed for the release of their sons.

The mounting pressure forced the government to release the political prisoners.

Nobel Prize

In 2004, Wangari Maathai won the coveted Nobel Peace Prize for her outstanding contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. She was the first African woman to receive this prestigious award.

The late Maathai continues to inspire environmentalists, activists, and women's rights advocates across the world long after her death. Her legacy lives on.

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