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date: 25 June 2022

Wangari Muta Maathaifree

Wangari Muta Maathaifree

  • Kabiru KinyanjuiKabiru KinyanjuiInternational Development Consultant


The life of Wangari Muta Maathai (1940–2011) was strongly shaped by her rural environment, missionary education, and exposure to university education in the United States and Germany. Her interactions with other women—her mother, teachers, and grassroots women—also had a great impact on her work and commitment. In the midst of enormous challenges and obstacles, she created a formidable Green Belt Movement (GBM) to empower grassroots women. By mobilizing women to plant and care for trees, Maathai changed the thinking and practices of conserving the environment at a time when dominant global thinking on the environment and women’s role in society was grappling for transformation. Hence the dynamics of local and international forces coalesced in the work of the GBM. Local experiences also infused global thinking and appreciation of struggles for democratic governance, peace, and sustainable development. Consequently, Professor Maathai’s ingenuity and persistence were widely recognized and honored, and earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.


  • East Africa and Indian Ocean
  • Women’s History

The Formation of an Environment Icon

The life of Wangari Muta Maathai (1940–2011) demonstrates the complex interaction of constructive historical circumstances with the development of an individual. Maathai was shaped by her rural environment—in which she lived on her mother’s farm—as well as her missionary education and later, by her education in the United States and Germany. Other influential circumstances include an encounter on a settler’s farm in the Nakuru region of Kenya, engagements with women in tree-planting ventures, and intense protracted struggles for the democratization of Kenya. These events were critical to the formation of Maathai, who became an environmental champion, an engaged intellectual, a Nobel laureate, and an icon of grassroots activism.

Thanks to a government-run exchange program, Maathai went to college in the United States, earning a master’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. But after returning to Kenya, she found that her career opportunities were limited. As an alternative, she chose to further her education, which led to a doctorate in the field of veterinary science from the University of Giessen, a first for an eastern African woman, for which she was widely recognized. Later, when she was denied the opportunity to participate in elective politics, she invested her energies into the development of the GBM which became her signature lifetime achievement, widely honored on numerous occasions for its pioneer tree-planting ventures and the related empowerment of women.

Her entire life was thus characterized by learning, critical observations, engagement, interactions with people, and advocacy for change. At the same time, Maathai’s life was greatly influenced by the splendor and simplicity of rural Gikuyu community life, values which subsequently engaged with Western education and religion, with ethnic and gender biases, and with state power and international development thinking. The interplay of these dynamics served in critical ways to shape the life work of Prof. Wangari Maathai which was recognized and awarded in 2004 with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Early Life

Colonialism in Kenya was a major force for social differentiation. Children like Maathai, who were born near a missionary settlement, and whose parents allowed them to venture into the new teachings by Christian missionaries, had early access to Western education. This formal education opened unparalleled opportunities in colonial and postcolonial Kenya. However, some people who had early contact with colonialists and missionaries lost valuable land and were displaced, while others were relegated to migrant labor. Under colonialism, indigenous Kenyan cultures were besieged. Such was the world into which Maathai was born in 1940 and subsequently raised.

Maathai was born in a small rural village known as Ihithe in the Tetu division in what was then the Nyeri District. It was an area populated by the Gikuyu people who lived in scattered homesteads around which they cultivated food crops and kept livestock.1 British settlers engaged in large-scale farming within the district, while colonial administrators entrenched colonial rule. Christian missionaries, in corollary fashion, established mission stations for evangelism and offered limited basic education to the indigenous people.2 In the community where Maathai was raised there was limited interaction with other Kenyan ethnic communities, although sporadic interaction with Maasai herders in their quest for grazing areas was common. In her writings, Maathai refers to Maasai influence on her mother’s side.3

Maathai’s exposure to other Kenyan ethnic communities broadened when she moved onto a settler’s farm in the Nakuru area where her father was employed. On this farm she interacted with ordinary people from other ethnic communities as well as foreigners. Though such encounters in colonial Kenya were often limited, Maathai strived to base these relationships on equality, freedom, dignity, learning, and mobilization in common pursuit of sustainable development.

Located between the Aberdares Mountains and Mount Kenya, the Nyeri District was well known as the epicenter of Gikuyu resistance to colonialism and the imposition of colonial taxation. It became known as the home of renowned Mau Mau freedom fighters, outstanding postcolonial leaders, and intellectuals.4 Leaders such as the legendary freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, former President Mwai Kibaki, and Wangari Maathai had their beginnings in the district. In the last three decades it has become the cosmopolitan and partially urbanized County of Nyeri.

Formal Education in Kenya and the United States

Maathai’s parents were among the first people to interact with and gain some education from the missionaries (athomi or asomi). While her father was formally educated, her mother was not. However, both were interested in Western education.5 They realized the value of education and encouraged their children to attend school. Maathai’s elder brother Nderitu was the first in the family to attend school, thereby creating a positive image of schooling and serving as an inspiration to his sister. Maathai had the unique opportunity of going to school when girls in her age group were typically not given the opportunity of doing so. The prevailing cultural attitudes toward Western education and especially education for girls were hostile. These factors, together with the limited number of schools in colonial Kenya, meant that the young Maathai was very fortunate. Her family had established the precedent of educating girls, just as an older uncle had done.6 Together with her mother, Maathai left a settler’s farm in Nakuru, where her father was working, to return to Ihithe village in the Nyeri district—one of the rural areas designated for Africans, termed “native reserves,”—so that she could attend school.

Maathai was born in polygamous family. Her mother had a great deal of influence on her daughter as she grew up in the village. She was tasked with domestic chores as was expected of young girls in traditional society. In many instances she learned by imitating what her mother and other village women were doing. She was allocated a mini garden by her mother to cultivate and to learn practically how to care for plants. This affinity with the soil became a great asset when she led tree-planting campaigns. In the later stages of her life, as she worked for the restoration of the environment, she often recalled this period nostalgically as a source of inspiration and renewal.7 Field work provided hands-on experience with nature and nurtured a strong attachment to plants, animals, and rivers in the immediate environment.

A decision to send Maathai to school was made by her mother at the instigation of Nderitu, an elder brother. At the insistence of her mother and her brother Nderitu, Maathai was enrolled at a Presbyterian church Primary School, Ihithe—and there began her exposure to Western education.8 This experience ignited a passion for education, which Maathai captured in later writings: “How I longed to be able to write something and rub it out. When I finally learned to read and write, I never stopped, because I could read, I could write and I could rub.”9 After a period of attending primary school, it was decided she should join her cousin at St. Cecilia’s Intermediate Primary School, a boarding school operated by the Mathari Catholic Mission and Consolata Missionary Sisters. Maathai’s mother, her brother Nderitu, and another member of the family made this critical decision, which would open the doors for Maathai to quality education in Kenya and eventually in the United States, thus introducing her to international networks which were to shape her future.

Describing her experience at St. Cecilia’s Intermediate Primary School, Maathai writes: “I really enjoyed learning and had a knack for being an attentive listener and very focused in the classroom, while being extremely playful outside of it.”10 However, colonial education also exposed her to contradictions and challenges with regard to African cultures and in particular with regard to her mother tongue.11 In her school, speaking in her mother tongue was a punishable offense. All the girls in the school came from the same community, but were prohibited from speaking their language. To see her customs denigrated at this stage of her personal development was devastating.12 Despite that negative experience, Maathai remained proud of her culture and valued indigenous knowledge and related stories. Her books and speeches were often enriched by illustrations from her cultural background despite the onslaught it had undergone during the exposure to missionary education and religion.

Even though some of the teaching at school undermined her cultural identity, the warmth and encouragement from the Catholic nuns and the stimulus of learning and appreciating the sciences had a lasting impact. The influence of the nuns began in this school and continued all the way to university. There, Maathai changed her first baptismal name and became a staunch member of the Legion of Mary, which encouraged the values of service and volunteering. Accordingly, she adopted new Christian names, to later abandon them in favor of her African names, a saga repeated upon marriage and divorce.13

In 1956, Maathai took another important step in her education journey by joining Loreto High School, Limuru. There her interest in the sciences was further nurtured by the Catholic nun teachers. As a national school, Loreto High School provided Maathai with the opportunity to interact with girls from other ethnic groups in Kenya. Through interaction with the nuns, Maathai gained the Christian values of respect for the dignity of all human beings.14 Most of these blended well with the Gikuyu values of hard work, respect for fellow humans, and an appreciation for the dignity and wisdom derived from being a member of a community, referred to elsewhere as “ubuntu.”15 In many respects she became ecumenical, embracing religious ideas and values from other world faiths, especially as they related to the protection of the environment.16 Although she was one of the educated girls, she never lost touch with her rural roots and the common people. Later in life, as she became more engaged with various communities, her respect and appreciation of Gikuyu language, culture, and indigenous knowledge deepened and widened.17

While Maathai was cloistered in Catholic schools, the country was undergoing the turbulence of Mau Mau resistance against British colonialism. In this regard, Nyeri was the epicenter of the freedom struggle. In the forests of Aberdares and Mount Kenya, guerilla warfare was intense. In 1955, people were moved to concentration villages to pacify the region and to sever access to vital supply lines and community support that had supported the resistance fighters.18 It was in the context of the Mau Mau freedom struggle that Maathai received her education at St. Cecilia Intermediate Primary School and later Loreto High School, Limuru.

After completing her high school education in 1959, at Loreto School, Maathai embarked on another educational journey, this time to the United States. In 1960, she benefited from what in Kenya was called the “Tom Mboya Airlift” to the United States, for education in preparation for independence. In the United States Maathai landed at another Roman Catholic institution, known as Mount St. Scholastica College (later Benedictine College) where she majored in biology and minored in chemistry and German.19 Characteristically, Maathai was a keen learner in both the classroom and beyond. She summarized her experiences at Mount St. Scholastica College in the following manner: “My four years at the Mount, and experiences I had both on and off campus, nurtured in me a willingness to listen and learn, to think critically and analytically, and to ask questions. These skills stayed with me wherever I went from then on.”20 However, this educational experience failed to expose Maathai to the ongoing civil rights struggle or the intense debates in the United States at that time on the vagaries of the Vietnam War.

Maathai’s academic studies at Mount St. Scholastica College prepared her for entry into graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh in 1964, where she completed a master’s degree in biology before returning to Kenya early1966. Once again finding her options limited, she went on to pursue a doctorate from the University of Giessen in Germany.

While undertaking her studies, Maathai learned how Christianity practiced in American, European, and African societies blended well with their dominant cultures. She saw how missionaries perpetuated false dichotomies between Christian values and aspects of African cultures.21 This revelation was to shape and indeed strengthen Maathai’s appreciation of her Gikuyu cultural background and heritage, enabling her to interact and learn from ordinary people in her advocacy for sustainable environmental practices and the empowerment of women.

Academic Career

In 1966, Maathai returned to Kenya confident and with high hopes for making a contribution to the newly independent country. She had a job offer in the Department of Zoology at University College, Nairobi, only to discover the shocking news that the job had meanwhile been given to another person who was not even in the country. This experience exposed her, perhaps for the first time, to ethnic discrimination practiced by a lecturer at the college, who had originally given her the job offer.22 Later on, when employed by the university, she encountered gender discrimination with regard to salary and benefits, against which she fought energetically with her women colleagues. These experiences emboldened her to fight against ethnic discrimination and gender inequalities which she encountered in the same institution and in the country generally.

The experience of discrimination at the Department of Zoology led Maathai to look for opportunities elsewhere. A meeting with Prof. Reinhold Hofmann from the University of Giessen in Germany provided an opportunity not only for employment but also for the advancement of her field of interest at the upcoming university. Prof. Hofmann had a mission to fulfill at the emerging University College, Nairobi: to establish a Department of Veterinary Anatomy in the School of Veterinary Medicine. He offered Maathai the job of a research assistant on the basis of skills acquired during her studies and work exposure in the United States.23

Maathai’s knowledge of the German language (which was a minor subject during study for her first degree) became useful as it enabled her to interact with the German lecturers who were assisting with the establishment of a school of veterinary medicine. This was a joint program between the University of Giessen and University College, Nairobi.

The encounter with expatriate Germans opened a unique opportunity for Maathai. She was given a scholarship for PhD studies and research in Kenya and Germany. Eventually Maathai was awarded a PhD by the University of East Africa in 1971. The degree was conferred by the President of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, then Chancellor of University College, Nairobi. She became the first woman in East and Central Africa to acquire such an academic degree.24 With her academic career assured in the new University of Nairobi, she became the chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy in 1976, and thereafter an associate professor—the first indigenous woman to acquire the rank. Her position at the university also opened opportunities to venture into other fields of service and leadership for which she was to become well known in addition to her academic pursuits.

During the period when Maathai was acquiring her education in Kenya and the United States (1952–1966), the respective colonial and independent governments were undertaking far-reaching agricultural reforms in central Kenya. These changes were advocated by the R. J. M. Swynnerton Plan of 1954. The plan recommended land consolidation and registration of individual ownership to create a landed class which would form a buffer between the radical Gikuyu members and the colonial government, thereby minimizing support for the Mau Mau rebellion. The document argued that by creating a class of privileged rural farmers, the radicalization of peasants would be minimized, thus denying support for Mau Mau and other radical political elements. The intention was to pacify central Kenya and create a favorable apolitical climate for consolidating the interests of settlers and the colonial administration. This policy was implemented from the mid-1950s and accelerated in the ’60s and ’70s by the independent government of Kenya. It was bolstered by the introduction of cash crops such as coffee, tea, pyrethrum, and the introduction of exotic dairy cows. Modern farming methods were introduced to small-scale farmers through the provision of extension services and credit facilities. Agricultural cooperatives were established in rural areas to ensure that quality agricultural commodities were produced and marketed. The Swynnerton Plan and subsequent government policies informed land settlement schemes which were funded by the British government to buy out white settler farmers, and to appease released Mau Mau detainees and landless people displaced as result of land consolidation in “native reserves.” These land reforms changed the social, economic, political, and ecological landscape of central Kenya, and affected village life and the environment where Maathai grew up. Individual ownership of land and the introduction of cash crops drastically altered how people related to their environment.25 The indigenous trees were cut to prepare ground for planting coffee, tea, and wetlands; sacred groves and common grazing areas were subdivided, shared, and privatized.26 The consequences of these changes were observed by the young Maathai and responded to by the GBM in the ’80s and ’90s.

Marriage, Divorce, and Motherhood

Wangari Muta married Mwangi Mathai in 1969. At that time, she was working as an assistant lecturer at the University College, Nairobi. Two years into their marriage, she attained her PhD, which accelerated her career in academia. Mwangi, on the other hand, was working for a private corporation and was a business entrepreneur with political ambitions. He eventually became a member of parliament for a constituency in Nairobi.

When they got married, she changed her name to Wangari Mathai, which she initially resisted, but did so on the insistence of her husband.

The couple had similar family backgrounds. Both families migrated from the Nyeri District to the Rift Valley province in search of employment and land to cultivate. The couple had their upbringing and initial education in colonial Kenya before going to the United States for university education. They returned to Kenya soon after independence.

As elites, they were keen to build careers, and acquire wealth and status in the emerging society. However, they were still straddling the line between their traditional culture and Western values.27 Their wedding was solemnized according to Gikuyu traditions and Western Christian trappings. The contending social forces of the colonial period persisted in postcolonial Kenya, impinging on the concept of modern marriage and incipient African womanhood. Maathai seems to have been aware of these tensions as she juggled the roles of mother, politician’s wife, and university teacher, as well as affirming herself as an African woman—in manner of dressing, hospitality at home, and speaking local languages to meet the expectations of her husband’s constituents.28 Hence her marriage might have become a theater of contestations of different perceptions of womanhood in independent Kenya. The subsequent handling of the divorce proceedings by the judiciary and the press seem to point out the quandary of how marriages of “educated women” were then perceived. Future research could explore further the tensions that marriages of educated elites encountered, while still embedded in their ethnic traditions.

Maathai’s marriage produced three children, Waweru, Wanjira, and Muta, two boys and a girl. Accounts from friends indicate that both parents were devoted to the well-being and education of their children. In the midst of her demanding career as an environmental and political activist, Maathai enjoyed motherhood and was very protective of her children. Nevertheless, it was not easy balancing bringing up three children, earning a living, carving her identity, as well as navigating through turbulent political waters.29

Their divorce was highly publicized. But as painful as it was, it seems to have given Maathai a measure of latitude to pursue her interests and achieve success as an activist.

The Birth and Growth of the GBM

The GBM was launched under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK), an umbrella organization which brought grassroots women’s organizations together for the advancement of women. Initially, the NCWK was an organization led by urban elite women and intended to give a voice to women’s organizations. Member organizations were usually part of a countrywide network that resonated with concerns of grassroots women. Maendeleo ya Wanawake was such a grassroots organization established during the colonial period and after independence had developed a countrywide network of grassroots affiliates.30

Thus, the NCWK provided an appropriate platform to develop and experiment with innovative ideas such as the GBM. The NCWK nurtured this initiative, enabling it to reach out and empower rural women. The genius of Maathai and other women leaders was to turn this elite organization into a vehicle for the empowerment of rural women. It thus became a critical constituency for experimenting with new ideas.

Under the auspices of the NCWK, the GBM, with limited donor funding, gradually evolved into a platform to educate and empower rural communities and Kenyans in general. It focused on the value of tree-planting programs, as well as dealing with environmental deterioration in rural areas resulting from the intensified cultivation of cash crops and population growth. The GBM is thus credited with developing a culture of planting trees during important family, community, and national events. The culture of planting trees took root everywhere in Kenya toward the end of last decade of the 20th century. With Maathai’s guidance, the program went from a series of local women’s activities into a national and international phenomenon. In many areas of Kenya, the tree cover was restored.

Maathai and other writers have described at length the methodologies and approaches utilized by the GBM to reach out to rural women, building awareness regarding the needs of the environment and the adoption of relevant innovations.31 Such were the modalities and characteristics of the movement, resulting in a culture of tree planting that was nurtured widely among Kenyans.

First, it is necessary to interrogate and appreciate the less than ideal circumstances under which the GBM rose and flourished. To begin with, Maathai had to contest for a position in the NCWK leadership. In 1979, when she vied for the position of chairperson, she encountered ethnic and political intrigues, and personal innuendos, citing her as a divorced and educated woman. She was narrowly defeated in the race for the top position, but was consoled by being appointed vice-chairperson, elected by an overwhelming majority. Events around this election occasioned unsolicited media publicity for Maathai. In the following year, despite political and ethnic maneuvers, she was elected to the position of chairperson and re-elected repeatedly until 1987, when she retired from the position. This conspicuous trajectory rendered her quite visible and a target of concern by the authoritarian state and political system.32

Upon Maathai being elected chairperson in 1980, the largest member organization in the council, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, withdrew its membership. This left the NCWK in a precarious financial situation and effected the severing of relationships with many grassroots organizations. This was a political maneuver intended to weaken the chairperson role and a calculated strategy to undermine umbrella organizations by the withdrawal of members. The overall objective was to control the politics of women’s empowerment.33 The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) was also a victim of a similar tactic when it became a fierce critic of the authoritarian tendencies of the Moi regime. A church allied to President Moi withdrew from the NCCK in similar circumstances.34 Thereafter Maendeleo ya Wanawake was integrated within the ruling party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), until the overwhelming defeat of the party in the general elections of 2002.35

Secondly, in 1982 for the first time, Maathai ventured into electoral politics. Although seen by some as an ill-advised move, in retrospect it proved a boon for the development of the GBM and the career of Maathai in environmental advocacy. When Maathai decided to vie for an elected position, she underestimated the determination of the state to frustrate and contain her ambitions. She resigned from her comfortable position at the University of Nairobi to contest a by-election in a rural constituency. Her resignation was accepted, but she was disqualified to stand as a candidate allegedly because she had not been registered as a voter. She challenged this in court, but her petition was dismissed. When she tried to withdraw her resignation letter from the University of Nairobi, she was bluntly told that the position had been taken by another person! Then she was confronted with the fact that she had no job nor house to live in—hard realities. Characteristically, Maathai turned this misfortune into an opportunity which in the final analysis worked for the good of the GBM and her work with the NCWK. Then she assumed the position of full-time coordinator of the GBM.36

Thirdly, the prevailing circumstances, both personal and organizational, called for the strengthening of the NCWK and the GBM by building networks and partnerships to facilitate funding and support. By becoming a full-time paid coordinator, Maathai brought much needed energy and courage into the movement at a critical time of its development. Funding was crucial, giving Maathai a salaried job and access to resources to assist rural women to launch and maintain tree nurseries. It also gave her increased international exposure which provided some degree of political protection and a platform to highlight issues related to the environment. The separation between the NCWK and the GBM that occurred in 1987 as a result of political pressure from the Moi regime, proved another milestone in the development of the identity and stature of Maathai as an environmental activist.

One of Maathai’s remarkable gifts and indeed a notable strength was her ability to build alliances between local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international NGOs, with environmental celebrities, activists, and the press, thereby raising local and global awareness of grassroots environmental issues. Such strengths also helped to secure funding for the GBM and to ensure, in some measure, Maathai’s personal security. That the GBM withstood and survived harassment from the government of Kenya and its security apparatuses was a testimony to the strength and capacity of these networks. At times she utilized these international alliances and networks to expose the atrocities and injustices that people had suffered under the auspices of their own government. She observed:

Working for justice and freedom is often a lonely and dispirited business. Yet in my various struggles I have been fortunate to receive the encouragement and support of many individuals and institutions both in Kenya and overseas, who have stood by me in difficult times. Often their phone calls, faxes, letters—or, later, e-mails—or simply their presence made the difference at a crucial moment. To all of them, I am eternally grateful, as I am to the powerful who were willing to use their positions to protect me.37

The list of supporters—women, men, and institutions in Kenya and elsewhere—would be long. It is important to acknowledge that those relationships gave her work legitimacy, visibility, and recognition, and thereby ensured funding for the GBM and provided Maathai a measure of personal protection from the authoritarian regime.

In the Whirlwind of Electoral Politics

In 1997 and 2002, Maathai ventured into electoral politics once more. The first attempt in 1982 was blocked; in the 1997 attempt, she failed to secure a seat. In these initial attempts, no distinct ideological orientation or program of action could distinguish her from other politicians in the country. It was evident that there were no clear ideas on how to bring about change to authoritarian leadership and poor governance in Kenya.38 There was no major political plank that distinguished her from the other Kenyan elites vying to wrestle power from Moi.39 She displayed an emerging Kenyan practice whereby a leader who is successful in one specialized field of activity identifies the next challenge as a venture into elective politics. Maathai had been successful in building a grassroots movement, but she fell into the trap of competitive politics as the best way forward. With hindsight this move was misguided and diversionary. It diverted her critical energies from the issues that were dear to the GBM. It also diffused opportunities for deepening an understanding of environment challenges in the country. In some circles, her move in the direction of elective politics was seen as opportunistic.40 Fortunately, this did not ruin the GBM, a tragedy that often befalls institutions from which prominent leaders emerge. Her venture into politics plunged her into new controversies and, ironically, resulted in more publicity for the GBM.

The survival of the GBM under these circumstances may be attributed to the international stature that Maathai had acquired as an environmental warrior, and the existence of supporter networks and admirers scattered all over the world. Among them were the activists and the brokers of power. Despite the complexities and diversions that characterized her career, Wangari Maathai did succeed in the promotion and execution of important ideas and projects whose time had come.41 Eventually in 2002, on her third attempt, she was elected as a member of the Kenyan parliament and as a member of the National Rainbow Coalition which emerged out of the ashes of the dying authoritarian rule of Moi and KANU. She benefited mainly from the tide of change which was sweeping the country, not because she had articulated her own political ideas.42

Maathai’s election to parliament was almost an anticlimax. By then she had acquired world fame which transcended her position as a member of parliament and as an assistant minister of the environment and natural resources—a position she was appointed to in January 2003. She had already won many awards and was eventually awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Her impact and influence had extended well beyond her constituency in Tetu, Kenya, and far beyond Africa. She had become a global figure.

It is imperative to appreciate how engagement with the GBM widened Maathai’s horizons and capacity to confront authoritarianism, interrogate democratic governance, gender inequality, conflicts and peace, and engage with broader concerns of sustainable development and climate change. Each of these fields of her engagement merit detailed analysis as was done with the GBM. Suffice it to say, she mobilized local and international communities to save Uhuru Park from being turned into a concrete jungle. She was not deterred by personal abuse and threats, and today this open space in the center of Nairobi is a testimony of her courage, persistence, and foresight.

The continued existence of the Karura Forest in the outskirts of Nairobi city is another hallmark of her courage. That she accompanied mothers of political detainees at the Freedom Corner to fight for the release of their incarcerated children is indicative of how she identified with the struggles of ordinary Kenyans in confronting an authoritarian regime. Her concerns resonated with the needs and pains of ordinary mothers. Elsewhere, especially in the Rift Valley, where people were embroiled in state-sponsored ethnic conflicts since the early 1990s, Maathai joined with the churches, democratic activists, civil society organizations, international and local press to highlight atrocities committed against nonKalenjin ethnic communities in various parts of the Rift Valley. This, she did at high personal risk to her and to her friends. In 2007, the region would explode into postelection violence, something which she had foreseen and tried hard to mitigate by cultivating a culture of peace for almost two decades.

Working for the GBM widened her horizons and provided a canvas upon which Maathai painted her broad vision for sustainable development, peace, democracy, gender equality, and grassroots empowerment in Kenya and Africa.

Maathai’s Rise, International Prominence

A number of factors and circumstances seem to have contributed to the emergence, rise, and success of the GBM as a development actor. Among these were the rapid transformation that took place in the countryside, especially in central Kenya where Maathai grew up, and the impact this transformation had on the environment, which in turn shaped the concerns that the GBM raised. These changes started with the alienation of large tracts of land for white settlement at the onset of British colonialism. The resulting dislocation and labor migration initiated an environmental transformation that was accelerated in subsequent decades. In the ’50s, for purposes of controlling insurgency in central Kenya, cash crops such as coffee and tea, and the keeping of dairy animals were introduced. These agrarian reforms were adopted and intensified by the postcolonial government, leading to the increased degradation of rural areas. The impact of these policies was felt mostly in the ’60s and ’70s as landless poor were settled, necessitating the cutting of trees on small-scale farms and reducing forest cover in districts like Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Nyandarua, Laikipia, and Kirinyaga. Forest cover was also decimated as large-scale farms were subdivided and select forest reserves were hived off for settlement purposes. The accompanying population explosion also meant more people needed to be fed, educated, and their various needs provided for. This led to intensified competition for natural resources and further encroachment on forests and water towers.43

The GBM established strong footholds in the districts where land consolidation and settlements had taken place and where modern farming methods and marketing were adopted. It is here that the GBM mobilized women, self-help groups, and communities into tree-planting networks.44 Its reputation soared in the context of environmental advocacy, tree planting, and the raising of awareness of poverty at grassroots levels. The women formed an important constituency of this work which politicians could not ignore. Instead the state officials preferred to create divisions among the GBM leadership rather than banish it. By the time that the GBM had spread out to other African countries, acquiring a pan-African perspective and reputation, it had already taken deep roots in rural Kenya.

Researching ticks at the University of Nairobi also exposed Maathai to the environmental degradation taking place in rural Kenya and its impact on the livelihoods of rural women. Her time in academia gave her opportunities to engage in voluntary community activities that were not strictly academic, although regarded as part of university community service. She straddled academic activities and civic engagement as a member of the NCWK and as a board member of the Environment Liaison Centre.45 As a highly educated woman, she gained visibility and much appreciation.

The impact of changes in rural Kenya was complicated by emerging corruption among Kenya’s elite. This was characterized by land grabbing, destruction of forests and wildlife, and by exploiting the complex dynamics between public service and engagement in private business. The Ndegwa Report of 1971 legitimized such practices.46 These practices tended to concentrate wealth and power among few elites, predominantly from one ethnic group. The attendant inequalities in the country were analyzed and flagged by the International Labour Organization Report of 1972. The drift toward authoritarianism had emerged in the late ’60s and ’70s under Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta, and was consolidated in the ’80s with the ascendancy of the Moi regime.47 One party rule was legalized, and dissent was punished by arbitrary arrests, torture, and detention without trial.48 Maathai took up the leadership of the NCWK and subsequently as a coordinator of the GBM as state control and surveillance was intensified.

As Maathai ascended to the leadership of the NCWK and the GBM, international concerns and thinking with regard to the linkages between development and environment were evolving and shaping global discourse and the engagement of governments, international agencies, and NGOs. The United Nations (UN) conferences in the ’70s provided the base for global debates on environment and equality for women that dominated the rest of the 20th century and beyond. The relevant conferences included: Environment and Development (Stockholm, Sweden, 1972), Hunger and World Food Problems (Rome, Italy, 1974), Population Growth and Development (Cairo, Egypt, 1974), Human Settlements (Vancouver, Canada, 1976), Science and Technology for Development (Vienna, Austria, 1979), and Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). The World Conference on Women held in Mexico (1975) and subsequent ones in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995) set the stage for fundamental changes in gender policies, relations, and for women’s participation in development and leadership.49

International discourse on the environment and climate change also advanced after the Stockholm conference through a series of initiatives culminating in the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED), Earth Summit (1992), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Johannesburg, South Africa (2002).50 Such discourse broadened debates on development, giving critical attention to issues surrounding the environment and climate change. They energized governments, development agencies, civil society organizations and, in particular, women’s movements and environmental activists all over the world. Perchance they helped Maathai consolidate her thinking and understanding of environmental issues in Kenya and helped her to identify follow up actions that needed to be taken. During this period the GBM thrived, leading to the recognition of Maathai. She also became a keen and influential player in the spectrum of international conferences.51

Maathai’s life was intricately related to the predicament of women. She was brought up, taught, encouraged, and mentored by women—her mother, village women, and teachers (nuns in particular). When conflict engulfed central Kenya and some men went into the forest to fight and others detained, it was women who took care of their families: providing food, building houses, and in some cases educating children.52 When Maathai came home during the school holidays, this was the reality that confronted her. Women were in control and were making the vital decisions at home, in the village, and at school. Maathai interacted on a daily basis with women who were decision-makers and leaders. There was an aspect of independence in the women Maathai associated with. But as land consolidation and registration went on in central Kenya, it was men who were registered as owners, although it was women who cultivated the land. When cash crops were introduced, again it was men who were registered in the cooperatives and received payments after deliveries of tea and coffee. These forms of marginalization of women were common in Kenya. Maathai’s campaigns to empower women may have been rooted in these experiences of gender inequalities and marginalization.53

In the ’80s most African countries underwent structural adjustment policies leading to economic and social reforms, the privatization of state enterprises, and the limitation of the role of the state in development activities.54 These externally initiated reforms impacted negatively on the provision of health, education, and other social services. With the reduced role of the state and increased indebtedness of African countries, new spaces for other development actors emerged. Hence the proliferation of NGOs with concerns such as the environment, the development of microfinance, peace building, human rights, and the empowerment of women.55 This was accompanied by increased funding for civil society organizations due to increased concerns about the accountability of governments which were also perceived as authoritarian and corrupt. Aid agencies distrusted state actors and channeled more resources to nonstate actors.56

Diversified international funding helped build a unique and solid international constituency that sustained the GBM financially and politically. The diversity of funding sources was remarkable in winning international support and admirers including young people (for instance, Danish school children), celebrities, NGOs, and bilateral, private foundations and UN agencies.57 This array of support attracted international interest, recognition, and awards, and cushioned the GBM and Maathai against drastic measures that were taken at that time against other civil society organizations and individuals in the country. As more funds were secured and more international attention gained, the GBM was assured of survival, both financially and politically.

The Place of Wangari Maathai in Kenya, Africa, and the World

Maathai was a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic figure, with no rigid ideological stance in her engagement with the environment and the politics of Kenya. “I was learning on the job,” she later admitted.58 Her approach to issues was not a fundamental threat to underlying religious, gender, cultural, or other ideological orders, though interests of elites and actors in the authoritarian state took offense. She was recognized at once for doing no harm and for not upsetting the status quo. Her achievements were appealing to all ideological shades. She appealed to environmental and peace constituencies in the global development establishment and was heartily recognized. Hence Maathai was shaped mainly by Gikuyu culture, colonial and postcolonial history, contacts with Catholic clergy, nuns, and grassroots women. These groups played critical roles in shaping the values and politics that she espoused for social justice, sustainable development, and climate change.

Maathai is still remembered for her determined and persistent efforts to safeguard Uhuru Park and the Karura Forest for future generations, for her solidarity with mothers of political detainees, as well as her relentless efforts for peace and to end election-related violence in the Rift Valley region and in the country since 1992 when multiparty politics were allowed. When she was globally recognized with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, she became an instant national icon.59 Duncan Ndegwa, an outstanding public servant from Nyeri County, brought out this ironic situation in his congratulatory letter to Maathai when he wrote:

Lest you forget, and far away from any vestiges of dignity, we have seen you being shoved aside if not totally ignored by the government, labeled feminine chauvinist and treated like a common criminal all for being principled and living for a cause. However, no healing of the scars inflicted on you, I am convinced, can equal the soothing of the Nobel Peace Prize you have now won. I am sure that this honour will now usher in a new beginning with new sensibilities to match.

Your recognition as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate has without doubt now confirmed your extraordinary identity in Tetu, Nyeri, Kenya, East Africa, Africa and the World.60

The University of Nairobi, which had denied her a job in 1982, honored her with an honorary doctorate in 2005 and hosts the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI), which promotes research on land use, peace, and sustainable development. On her demise, she was accorded a state funeral by the Kenyan government.

In 2005 ten heads of state of countries bordering Congo Basin recognized her by giving her the title of goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin rainforest ecosystem—a responsibility which she cherished.61 I remember once visiting her office to find her immersed in the study of French so as to discharge the responsibilities of the new position. She also had close relationships with other African regional institutions—for instance, the African Development Bank (AfDB). She even gave a speech at the AfDB Group’s Eminent Speakers Program in Tunis, Tunisia, on October 27, 2009.62

In Africa she made history in many respects. She was the first woman to be awarded a PhD in veterinary sciences and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was indeed an African environmental icon as testified by her appointment to the prestigious position of goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin rainforest ecosystem. She affirmed “earth and water, air and the waning fire of the sun combine to form the essential elements of life and reveal to me my kinship with the soil.”63

While colonial and Western education at times alienated her from her mother tongue, culture, and home environment, it paved the way for her to achieve the highest academic distinction and many honors. Born in the midst of a world war and growing up among the conflicts and ambiguities of colonial domination, thereafter she cultivated, mobilized, and networked for a world of democratic and peaceful governance and sustainable development.

The death of Wangari Muta Maathai on September 25, 2011, left a rich heritage that continues to inspire men and women, old and young, and indeed the entire world as it grapples with the challenges of sustainable development goals and climate change. Her adage that “when we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope” remains an inspiration.


This article has benefited a great deal from discussions and interviews held toward the end of 2018 and in 2019 with Prof. Wanjiku Kabira, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, Annetta Miller, Harold Miller, Ms. Lillian W. Mwaura, Mr. Joshua S. Muiru, Ms. Njeri Muhoro, Prof. Gideon Cyrus Mutiso, and Mr. Titus K. Muya. They are, however, not responsible for the views expressed herein or the interpretations given in the article.

Primary Sources

Interviews held on various dates in 2018 and 2019 with Prof. Wanjiku Kabira, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, Annetta Miller, Harold Miller, Ms. Lillian W. Mwaura, Mr. Joshua S. Muiru, Ms. Njeri Muhoro, Prof. Gideon Cyrus Mutiso, and Mr. Titus K. Muya.

  • Branch, Daniel. Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963–2012. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
  • Elkins, Caroline. Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. London: TheBodley Head, 2014.
  • Jolly, Richard, Louis. Emmerij, and Thomas. G. Weiss. UN Ideas That Changed the World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
  • Maathai, Wangari. The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience. New York: Lantern Books, 2003.
  • Maathai, Wangari. Unbowed: One Woman’s Story. London: Arrow Books, 2006.
  • Maathai, Wangari. The Challenge for Africa: A New Vision. London: William Heinemann, 2009.
  • Maathai, Wangari. Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World . New York: Doubleday, 2010.

Links to Digital Materials

Further Reading

  • Cheru, Fantu. African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization. London: Zed Books, 2002.
  • Fowler, Alan, and Kabiru Kinyanjui. Indigenising Foreign Seed on African Soil: The Story of K-Rep. Nairobi, Kenya: Acacia Publishers, 2004.
  • Golding, Janice. “Wangari Maathai: The Earth Mother.” In Africa’s Peace Makers, edited by Adekeye Adebajo. Cape Town: Center for Conflict Resolution, 2014.
  • International Labour Organization (ILO). Employment, Incomes and Equality: A Strategy for Increasing Productive Employment in Kenya. Geneva, Switzerland: ILO, 1972.
  • Kenya Human Rights Commission. Killing the Vote: State Sponsored Violence and Flawed Elections in Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Human Rights Commission, 1998.
  • Kimathi, Mukami, with Wairimu Nderitu. Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter. Nairobi, Kenya: Mdahalo Bridging Divides, 2017.
  • Kinyua, Johnson Kiriaku. Bible Translations into Gikuyu: A History. Nairobi, Kenya: Action Publishers, 2017.
  • Mkandawire, Thandika, ed. African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development. Dakar, Senegal: Codesria Books, 2005.
  • Sorrenson, M. P. K. Land Reform in the Kikuyu Country: A Study in Government Policy. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Swynnerton, Roger J. M. A Plan to Intensify the Development of African Agriculture in Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Colony and Protectorate, 1954.
  • Waihenya, Waithaka, and Ndikaru wa Teresia. A Voice Unstilled: Archbishop Ndingi Mwana ’a Nzeki. Nairobi, Kenya: Sasa Sema, 2009.


  • 1. The early Gikuyu patterns of rural settlements are described by Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu (New York: Vintage Books, 1965); Duncan Ndegwa, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles: My Story, 2nd ed. (Nairobi, Kenya: Leadership Institute, 2011); and Wangari Maathai, Unbowed: One Woman’s Story (London: Arrow Books, 2006).

  • 2. Lawrence M. Njoroge, A Century of Catholic Endeavour: Holy Ghost and Consolata Missions in Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya: Pauline Publications Africa, 2000); Samuel G. Kibicho, God and Revelation in an African Context (Nairobi, Kenya: Action Publishers, 2006); and David P. Sandgren, Mau Mau’s Children: The Making of Kenya’s Postcolonial Elite (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012).

  • 3. Maathai, Unbowed, 7. Historian G. Muriuki refers to this early mixing of ethnic groups in The History of the Kikuyu, 1500–1900 (Nairobi, Kenya: Oxford University Press, 1974).

  • 4. Sandgren, Mau Mau’s Children.

  • 5. Cyrus G. Mutiso, Kenya: Politics Policy and Society (Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1975), 1–45, described the concept “Asomi” as Africans who early on acquired missionary education and differentiated themselves from those who had no Western education. In Gikuyu, they were known as “Athomi.” Ndegwa, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles, 62–64, refers to the divisions this category of people brought into in the society. Wangari Maathai came from a family of Athomi (Maathai, Unbowed, 11–12).

  • 6. Maathai, Unbowed, 39.

  • 7. Wangari Maathai, “Noble Lecture,” during the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2004; Maathai, Unbowed; and Maathai, Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (New York: Doubleday, 2010).

  • 8. Maathai, Unbowed, 39, 40–42.

  • 9. Maathai, Unbowed, 41.

  • 10. Maathai, Unbowed, 56.

  • 11. In his memoir, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir (Nairobi, Kenya: Kenway Publications, 2010), 110, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o narrates similar experiences in regard to speaking Gikuyu in school. He also discusses the place of indigenous languages in liberation from cultural enslavement in Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann Educational, 1986).

  • 12. Maathai, Unbowed, 59–60; and Ndegwa, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles, 87–91.

  • 13. Mathaai was named Wangari at birth after her father’s mother, as was Gikuyu tradition. She was baptized Miriam at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Ihithe, to become Miriam Wangari. Upon entry into St. Cecilia’s Intermediate Primary School, she embraced Roman Catholic teachings, especially the Legion of Mary. In honor and admiration of the mother and father of Jesus, she took the forenames Mary Josephine, and became popularly known among her colleagues in high school and college as Mary Jo. At college in the United States, she found it confusing to be referred as Miss Wangari. Hence, she decided to correct the confusion by adopting her full name, Mary Josephine Wangari Muta. She could then be addressed as Miss Muta. Upon her return to Kenya in 1966, she dropped her Christian names and retained her African names, Wangari Muta.

    Her marriage brought another challenge in terms of what she could be called. Her husband insisted on her adopting his surname. She became Wangari Mathai. Upon her divorce, her ex-husband insisted that she drop his surname. She creatively defied this by changing her last name to Maathai, by adding an “a” to her ex-husband’s surname. Thus she became Wangari Muta Maathai, asserting her African identity and freedom to be known and called by the names she wanted (Maathai, Unbowed, 147).

  • 14. Maathai, Unbowed, 70.

  • 15. Hannah Wangechi Kinoti, African Ethics: Gikuyu Traditional Morality (Nairobi, Kenya: Catholic University of Eastern Africa Press, 2013). The concept of “Ubuntu” has been widely discussed in South Africa, but here it refers to Desmond Tutu’s rendering of it in his book, God Is Not a Christian: Speaking Truth in Times of Crisis (London: Rider, 2013), 21–24. Tutu described how it emerged and was contextualized in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC); see Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness: A Personal Overview of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 30–32 and 165–167.

  • 16. Discussions held with Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, the former general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), November 2018, indicate Wangari participated in the early debates at the WCC’s Conference on Faith, Science, and the Future at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1979); and in the Church and Society Committee of the WCC. This may have shaped her strong ecumenical stance evident in later years.

  • 17. Wangari Maathai, The Challenge for Africa: A New Vision (London: William Heinemann, 2009); on culture, 160–183; and on mother tongues, 220–226.

  • 18. With Wairimu Nderitu, Mukami Kimathi: Mau Freedom Fighter (Nairobi, Kenya: Mdahalo Bridging Divides, 2017); and Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (London: The Bodley Head, 2014), 237–238.

  • 19. Maathai, Unbowed, 79.

  • 20. Maathai, Unbowed, 92.

  • 21. Kibicho, God and Revelation, 72–168.

  • 22. Maathai, Unbowed, 100–101.

  • 23. Maathai, Unbowed, 107–109.

  • 24. University of Nairobi Research Archive, “Citation on Professor Wangari Muta Maathai on her Conferment of the Honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) of the University of Nairobi,” March 11, 2005.

  • 25. M. P. K. Sorrenson, Land Reform in Kikuyu Country (London: Oxford University Press, 1967).

  • 26. An interview with Joshua S. Muiru, November 2019.

  • 27. Tabitha Kanogo, African Womanhood in Colonial Kenya, 1900–50 (Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishers, 2005), has analyzed the dynamics and contestations that shaped womanhood and marriage in colonial Kenya, including ethnic traditions, Christian missions, colonial state and its institutions, education, migration, travel, and women themselves.

  • 28. Maathai, Unbowed, 110–111 and 142.

  • 29. Maathai, Unbowed, 112, 144, 151–155.

  • 30. Maendeleo ya Wanawake, an organization for the progress of women, started during the colonial period, was dedicated to support the welfare of African women, but in the postcolonial period became a vehicle for the participation of women in development.

  • 31. Wangari Maathai, The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (New York: Lantern Books, 2003); and Maathai, The Challenge for Africa.

  • 32. An interview with Ms. Lillian W. Mwaura, former chairperson of NCWK, 1987 to 1996, November 15, 2018.

  • 33. Kiraitu Murungi, In the Mud of Politics (Nairobi, Kenya: Acacia Stantex Publishers, 2000), 110 and 185–187.

  • 34. Henry Okullu, The Quest for Justice: An Autobiography of Bishop John Henry Okullu (Kisumu, Kenya: Shalom Publishers and Computer Training Centre, 1997); and Kabiru Kinyanjui, “The Christian Churches and Civil Society in Kenya,” in Local Ownership, Global Change: Will Civil Society Save the World? ed. Roland Hoksbergen and Lowell M. Ewert (Monrovia, CA: World Vision International, 2002).

  • 35. Maathai, Unbowed.

  • 36. Lillian Mwaura interview, November 2018.

  • 37. Maathai, Unbowed, 248.

  • 38. Maathai, Unbowed.

  • 39. Timothy Njoya, We the People: Thinking Heavenly Acting Kenyan (Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers, 2017).

  • 40. Njoya, We the People, 196–197.

  • 41. Richard Jolly, “Underestimated Influence: UN Contributions to Development Ideas, Leadership, Influence and Impact,” in International Development: Ideas, Experience, and Prospects, ed. Bruce Currie-Alder, Ravi Kanbur, David Malone, and Rohinton Medhora (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), chapter 52.

  • 42. Daniel Branch, Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963–2012 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 249–251; and Karuti Kanyinga and Duncan Okello, eds., Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions: The Kenya 2007 General Elections (Nairobi, Kenya: Society for International Development and Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, 2010), 169.

  • 43. Branch, Kenya.

  • 44. An interview with Prof. Cyrus Mutiso indicated that Prof. Mathaai built the GBM on existing self-improvement women’s groups such as the Nyakinyua Mabati women’s groups located in the Nyeri and Murang’a Counties.

  • 45. Maathai, Unbowed, 119–125.

  • 46. Commission of Inquiry (Public Service Structure and Remuneration Commission), Kenya, Report of the Commission of Inquiry (Public Service Structure and Remuneration Commission) 1970–1971: D. N. Ndegwa (Nairobi, Kenya: [The Commission], 1971); and Michael Cowen and Kabiru Kinyanjui, Some Problems of Capital and Class in Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya: Institute for Development Studies, 1977).

  • 47. Murungi, In the Mud of Politics, 196–199.

  • 48. Wanyiri Kihoro, Never Say Die: The Chronicle of a Political Prisoner (Nairobi, Kenya: East African Education Publishers, 1998).

  • 49. Further information about these conferences can be found in the Links to Digital Materials section.

  • 50. Further information about these conferences can be found in the Links to Digital Materials section.

  • 51. The Green Belt Movement, “Wangari Maathai: Key Speeches and Articles,” November 11, 2020. Some of her most important speeches can be found on the GBM website, including: “Bottlenecks to Development in Africa,” Fourth UN World Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, August 30, 1995; “Speak Truth to Power,” May 4, 2000; “Noble Lecture” during the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2004; “Rise Up and Walk! The Third Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture,” Johannesburg, South Africa, July 19, 2005; “Sustained Development, Democracy, and Peace in Africa,” Gwangju, South Korea, June 16, 2006; and the “Keynote Address” at the Second World Congress of Agroforestry, Nairobi, Kenya, August 24, 2009.

  • 52. Elkins, Britain’s Gulag, 233–274.

  • 53. Branch, Kenya, 186–190.

  • 54. The socioeconomic impact of policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund on the environment and poverty in Africa should be noted at a time when the thinking within UN circles was questioning the prevailing development orthodoxy.

  • 55. Kabiru Kinyanjui, ed., “Non-Government Organizations (NGOs): Contributions to Development,” Occasional Paper, no. 50, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, 1987; and Njuguna, Ng’ethe and Karuti, Kanyinga, “The Politics of Development Space: The State and NGOs in the Delivery of Basic Services in Kenya,” Working Paper, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, 1992.

  • 56. Alan Fowler, Striking a Balance: Guide to Enhancing the Effectiveness of Non-Governmental Organizations in International Development (London: Earthscan Publications, 1997).

  • 57. Maathai, Unbowed.

  • 58. Maathai, Unbowed, 171.

  • 59. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Kenya, Bridging Ethnic Divides: A Commissioner’s Experience on Cohesion and Integration (Nairobi, Kenya: Mdahalo Bridging Divides, 2018).

  • 60. Duncan Ndegwa, Congratulatory Letter, December 2, 2004, in Ndegwa, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles, 595.

  • 61. Maathai, The Challenge for Africa, 11–12 and 272–273.

  • 62. AfDB, Eminent Speakers Program, “Wangari Maathai Underscores Importance of Good Governance in Poverty Reduction Efforts,” October 27, 2010.

  • 63. Maathai, Unbowed, 47.