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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.

Images from here and here.



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  1. says

    I think I am going to completely eat that book when I get my hands on it. My kind of woman, woman who meant business and just got on with it = influential.

  2. Anonymous says

    I don’t know much about this woman, but I am certainly going to get hold of her book so I can learn about her and her work. She does sound like my kind of woman! thank you for her to our attention!

  3. says

    I read Maathai’s autobiography early last year and I was so inspired by her story. I admire her great courage in the face of the many difficult situations she was confronted with.

  4. says

    What a coincidence! As soon as I saw your post I immediately screamed : “hey someone has stolen my thoughts!” because I thought I was going to write about it. The fact is that actually before three days ago I knew very little about this woman except that she is a Nobel prize winner and an environmentalist. However, on Tuesday this week I went to the opening of an African (Zimbabwean) restaurant here in Norwich which was followed by the screening of the film “Taking Root-The Vision of Wangari Maathai”. You can find a 5 minutes version of it on YouTube

    I assume the film is based on the book you have just talked about. It was inspiring indeed! It is a story of a woman (Wangari Maathai) who identified a problem in her society (limited energy resources(wood) for cooking) and found the solution in planting trees and mobilizing the whole community. The question that was left in my mind after watching the film was: Are there other examples of such women in Africa with such vision and determination fighting to protect the environment? I have a particular interest in this as I did a masters in sustainable energy and environment and during my studies worked on a case study on the relationship between the search for energy resources and poverty. And here is a woman who not only thought about it but also did something about it against all the odds of being a woman in her society.

    I recommend the film too!

    By the way, the restaurant proprietors announced that the plan to use her as their matron and role model

  5. Saran116 says

    I saw her on CNN a few years back and was so inspired by her power and fearlessness. I will definitely read this one! 😉


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