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Prof Maathai’s birthday should bring ‘green’ memories

KENYANS are celebrating the late Professor Waangari Maathai's Week from 1st of this month, which is also her birthday.

Historically, Professor Maathai was the first woman to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in March 2004 for her contribution towards sustainable development, democracy and peace.

Among the major activities she undertook under the ambit of her Green Belt Movement in Kenya was planting of trees and conservation of forest cover, said the High Commissioner of Kenya in Tanzania, Mr Dan Kazungu, when celebrating the day (birthday) in Dar es Salaam on Monday.

"This achievement saw her fated and recognised as a luminary in her chosen field. Indeed, she stood and will always stand as an example and a source of inspiration to everyone advocating for sustainable development, democracy and peace," said the High Commissioner.

He further said that the late Professor Maathai was a humble, authentic, ordinary woman who made exceptional contributions to her community, region and the African continent and the world at large.

"If she was with us today, she would be celebrating her 79th birthday, on the 1st of April 2019. It is therefore appropriate for us to celebrate her legacy today," said the Kenyan envoy.

According to Mr Kazungu, for the late Professor Maathai, safeguarding and strengthening the foundation for sustainable development was at the core of preservation of the existing environment as she herself indicated.

"You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them," she once said.

It was further noted that for over 30 years, she mobilized different groups of people to plant millions of trees, empowered and sensitized them on the benefits of environment preservation, democracy and peace among neighboring communities.

Professor Maathai fought long and hard to build a better Kenya, a better East Africa and a better world. Because of her selflessness, her country had made progress towards the world.

“As Kenyans step up the progress, they crave the company of their brothers and sisters in Tanzania,” said the High Commissioner, adding that in so doing, Kenyans will actualize a wise saying of those gone before them who stated: "If you want to go faster, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together", hence, Kenyans want to go far with Tanzanians in environmental conservation. He affirmed that the High Commission has reached out to the government of Tanzania through the Office of the Vice- President, Ministry of Environment and other partners to hold a series of events that are inspired by the legacy of the Nobel laureate, Professor Maathai.

The event will include the greening of the capital city Dodoma and will have experts to educate on the negative impacts of climate change and possible mitigation measures, said Mr Kazungu, adding that: "It is only through these appropriate actions that our generation will leave a better world for future generations.

It is only through appropriate action that the future generations will learn from us and aspire to leave the world better than they found it. This action is noble. It is wise.

It is what our beloved Noble Laureate Professor Maathai desired. It is what she encouraged. And it is what will bring Kenya, Tanzania, the East African region, Africa and the world sustainable peace and development."

The Former Chairman of the National Environment Management Council Tanzania (NEMC), Dr Reginald Mengi, stressed that what Professor Maathai did was not only for Kenya but for the world.

He encourages the society to honor her legacy for betterment of the current and next generations, reiterating that: "What she did is a testimonial. She is still alive in our hearts."

The https://www.greenbeltmovement. org/wangarimaathai/ biography states that, Professor Maathai was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya in 1940.

She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy.

The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively.

In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region. She was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya (1976–1987), and was its chairman (1981–1987).

In 1976, while she was serving in the National Council of Women, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting.

She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement (GBM), whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting.

Professor Maathai was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the board of many organisations.

She addressed the UN on a number of occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the five-year review of the Earth Summit.

She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future. She represented the Tetu constituency in Kenya’s parliament (2002–2007), and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya’s ninth parliament (2003–2007).

In 2005, she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem by the eleven Heads of State in the Congo region.

The following year, 2006, she founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with her sister laureates, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams, and Mairead Corrigan. In 2007, Professor Maathai was invited to be co-chair of the Congo Basin Fund, an initiative by the British and the Norwegian governments to help protect the Congo forests.

In recognition of her deep commitment to the environment, the United Nations (UN), Secretary-General named Professor Maathai a UN Messenger of Peace in December 2009, with a focus on the environment and climate change.

In 2010, she was appointed to the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group: a panel of political leaders, business people and activists established with the aim to galvanizing worldwide support for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Also in 2010, Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, established to safeguard the public land for whose protection she had fought for almost twenty years.

That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI).

The WMI will bring together academic research, including in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource- based conflicts and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organisation.

Professor Maathai died on 25 September 2011 at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Memorial ceremonies were held in Kenya, New York, San Francisco and London.

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