R.I.P. Wangari Maathai, The First African Woman To Receive The Nobel Peace Prize, Dies After Long Bout With Cancer

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If you’re not familiar with Wangari Maathai, you need to educate yourself

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died after a long struggle with cancer, the environmental organization she founded said Monday. She was 71.

Kenya’s most recognizable woman, Maathai won the Nobel in 2004 for combining environmentalism and social activism. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, where over 30 years she mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees.

In recognizing Maathai, the Nobel committee said that she had stood up to a former oppressive regime — a reference to former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi — and that her “unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression.”

Maathai said during her 2004 acceptance speech that the inspiration for her life’s work came from her childhood experiences in rural Kenya, where she witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed biodiversity and the capacity of forests to conserve water.

Although the Green Belt Movement’s tree-planting campaign did not initially address the issues of peace and democracy, Maathai said it became clear over time that responsible governance of the environment was not possible without democracy.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said this about the nation’s jewel:

“I join Kenyans and friends of Kenya in mourning the passing of this hero of our national struggles,” Odinga said. “Hers has been heroism easily recognized locally and abroad. … 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.”

This is definitely a major loss for the people of Kenya and our thoughts and prayers are with them.

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