Wangari Maathai: Africa's first woman Nobel Peace Prize winner

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004 at the age of 64. A long time has taken to be recognized for her deeds in making the world a better place to live.  She was revered by all who met her. She had a lot to say and wasn’t afraid to say it.

Today, September 26, 2011, everyone woke to the shocking news of her demise now at 71 from 1940 when she breathed mother earth’s beauty and for which she always lived to protect.

She met dignitaries from all over the world and in turn, introduced them to her calling…her people…her neighbors and friends that were:

“Today, Wangari Maathai, you are here in the Oslo Town Hall to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004. We share your joy with you and with your closest relatives and friends who are gathered here. We are also pleased to see so many Kenyans and other Africans in the Town Hall. We have all come together here to pay you our tribute.

Dear mama Wangari Maathai,
You have shown what it means to be a true African mother and a true African woman. Kenya admires you! Africa admires you! The world admires you! May your unceasing fight for the right always remain a source of inspiration for mankind.

I think the announcement has already changed your life. Your name will figure prominently in the history of the Peace Prize, together with the other African Peace Prize Laureates: Albert Lutuli, Anwar Sadat, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Fredrik Willem de Klerk and Kofi Annan. We hope the Peace Prize may be an inspiration for positive change in your beloved Kenya, in Africa, and in the many countries in the world that need to hear your voice. Congratulations on the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004.

You are the first woman from Africa to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. You will also be the first African from the vast region between South Africa and Egypt to receive the prize. You stand as an example and a source of inspiration to everyone in Africa who is fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace. You are an outstanding role model for all women in Africa and the rest of the world. You bravely opposed the oppressive regime in Kenya. Your unique modes of action put the spotlight on political oppression both nationally and internationally,”  said The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee – Ole Danbolt Mjøs (Oslo, December 10, 2004).

Kofi Annan, “Wangari Maathai will be remembered as a committed champion of the environment, sustainable development, women’s rights, and democracy. Her contribution to all these causes will forever be celebrated and honored. Wangari was a courageous leader. Her energy and life-long dedication to improving the lives and livelihoods of people will continue to inspire generations of young people around the world.”

The Norwegian poet Halldis Moren Vesaas  put it so beautifully in her poem “The woman is planting”:

The woman is planting a tree in the world.
On her knees, like someone in prayer,
Among the remains of the many trees
That the storm has broken down.
She must try again, perhaps one at last
Will be left to grow in peace.
And this is how Moren Vesaas ends the poem:

She sees the hands outspread on the earth
As if trying to impose her calm
On its threatening tremors. Oh earth, be still,
Be still, so my tree can grow.
Taking Root The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, “Once again, our country has woken up today to the sad news of the passing on of a hero of great standing, Prof Wangari Maathai.

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.

Prof Maathai has passed on 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.

In Kenya, we have lost her at a time we needed real champions for the cause of environment that she long symbolized. We have lost Maathai when we needed champions for better housing and sanitation to replace our slums.

We all knew her as a voice of reason, a lady who stood above our artificial divisions of race, tribe and region and championed the cause of humanity.

While we all struggle to come to terms with this most untimely tragedy for our nation, Maathai’s death should inspire us to struggle to do good and champion the human cause while we live.

We have many things to do, and one of those things is to complete our, my destiny, which is to teach others about the power of faith, courage, and determination.