When the Nobel Committee awarded the 2004, Nobel Peace Prize to a dark, African lady whose English still had the falter commonly found in her community, not many people knew her life story. It was not until 2007 that her story would go live in the form of a book. Wangari Muta Maathai is from Kenya and is commonly associated with the environmental work that she has been running in her home country. Her environmental work is spearheaded by the Green Belt Movement.
This is the autobiography of one courageous woman starts from the valleys that are in between Mount Kenya and the Nyandarua (Aberdare) Ranges where she was born in 1940. Vivid descriptions of green, lush and fertile highlands describe her childhood before the evils of colonialism and the destruction of environment mainly spearheaded by colonial policy follow later. It also chronicles her education under the missionaries, the famous 1960s Kennedy-Mboya Airlifts and life in America. What follows shows how the early Kenyan society had no place for women after she finds that a position she already had an appointment letter for, has been given out. Wangari is lucky to find a position at the same university but in a different department.
The book also describes her very first initiatives that she undertook to care for the environment while still performing the functions of a wife, mother and academic. A messy divorce follows later before she starts causing ripples in government leading to her jailing for several stints. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when she takes on the Daniel arap Moi regime for dishing out Karura Forest to private contractors. This earns her a beating and subsequent jailing. This is not only woman’s life but the life of a 40-year old country; the “good” pre-independence years, the Emergency years, the immediate post-independence years, the rocky 70s, the head 80s and the liberating 90s. It also brings to light the role that African woman play in the whole build of society.