Wangari Maathai Day: Her life in pictures
Africa Environment Day is celebrated in conjunction with Wangari Maathai Day in order to pay tribute to the late Nobel Laureate’s green legacy.
It is celebrated annually on March 3 and was established by the Organization of African Unity in 2002 as a way of raising awareness of the pressing environmental challenges facing the continent.
The late Prof. Maathai was the first woman from Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize: she had long campaigned for human rights and the empowerment of Africa’s most impoverished people.
She founded the Green Belt Movement, a tree-planting campaign to simultaneously mitigate deforestation and to give locals, especially women and girls, access to resources like firewood for cooking and clean water. They have since planted more than 40 million trees.
In 2004, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote sustainable development, democracy and peace.
Born in Nyeri on April 1, 1940, Maathai blazed many trails in her life. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.
In December 2002, she was elected to Kenya’s parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote.
She was honored by Time magazine in 2005 as one of 100 most influential people in the world. And Forbes listed her as one of 100 most powerful women in the world.
In April 2006, France bestowed its highest honor on her: the Legion d’Honneur.
In a 2005 speech that she made before the Nelson Mandela Foundation, she laid out specific steps that citizens, governments and businesses could take to protect the environment.
“We need people who love Africa so much that they want to protect her from destructive processes,” Maathai said then. “There are simple actions we can take.”
When she died in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama said Maathai’s life-long fight continues, building off what she was able to accomplish and the minds and policies she was able to shape over her lifetime.
“As she told the world, ‘We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist,'” Obama said in a statement. “Her legacy will stand as an example to all of us to persist in our pursuit of progress.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised Maathai as a true “visionary African woman” and called her a “leading voice on the continent.”
He said: “Professor Maathai introduced the idea of women planting trees in Kenya to reduce poverty and conserve the environment,” in a statement released via his office.
“At last count, the Green Belt Movement she helped to found had assisted women to plant more than 40 million trees. She understood and acted on the inextricable links between poverty, rights and environmental sustainability. One can but marvel at her foresight and the scope of her success. She was a true African heroine,” the statement continued.
Professor Maathai is celebrated globally for her environment conservation efforts and in France, the government unveiled a school in her honor.
Ecole élémentaire Wangari Maathai is a public elementary school situated in Aubervilliers area, Paris, France.
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