Wangari Maathai

Professor Wangari Maathai – A Woman that Did it!

Notably, Professor Wangari Maathai was one of 300 Kenyans selected to study in the United States through the Kennedy Airlift Program. Whereas, she studied Environmental Science and became the first East African woman to receive a Ph.D.

However, when she returned to Kenya, she was refused a job at the University College of Nairobi because of gender bias and tribal bias. Remarkably, Wangari overcame this bias and became the first woman in Nairobi to be a senior lecturer, chair of a department and associate professor.

To say nothing of, Wangari Maathai explored connecting environmental restoration to providing jobs for the unemployed.

Professor Wangari Maathai Background

In reality, Professor Wangari Maathai was born Wangari Muta Maathai in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya (Africa), in 1940. Whereas, she obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964). Equally, Wangari obtained a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966). And also pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi. Even before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy.

On one hand, Professor Wangari Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. On the other hand, the Nobelist became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy. And also an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

Professor Wangari Maathai Politics

Professor Maathai 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 organizations. 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.

Green Belt Movement

Prof. Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was the founder of the Green Belt Movement in 1977. In addition to being awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. She authored four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth. As well as having been featured in a number of books, she and the Green Belt Movement were the subjects of a documentary film, Taking Root: the Vision of Prof. Wangari Maathai (Marlboro Productions, 2008).

Equally important, the Green Belt Movement encouraged women to plant trees throughout the country for a small stipend. Slowly the Green Belt Movement became one that opposed the single-party government. Learn more about the Green Belt Movement. In 1997, Maathai decided to run for Parliament and for the Presidency. She did not win the election, but in 2002, she won 98 percent of the vote. Becoming a Member of Parliament and Assistant Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources.

Friends of Karura Forest

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 galvanize 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—e.g. in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource-based conflicts, and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organization.

The Nobel Peace Prize

Surprisingly, Professor Wangari Maathai was one of the first African Woman to be awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Nonetheless,  Alfred Nobel, the founder showed a big interest in social issues and was engaged in the Peace Movement. His acquaintance with Bertha von Suttner, who was a driving force in the international peace movement in Europe. And also later awarded the Peace Prize, influenced his views on peace.

Peace was the fifth and final prize area that Nobel mentioned in his will. On the contrary, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget). The state in which a country’s environment is in the reflection of the kind of government a country has and the governance that was in place. A government who was strong enough to enforce environmental laws can provide more resources and focus on conservation activities instead of exploiting the environment.

Other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Include;

  1. Martin Luther King Jr.
  2. Malala Yousafzai
  3. Mother Teresa
  4. Jane Addams
  5. Nelson Mandela
  6. Rigoberta Menchú Tum

for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” – Nelson Mandela.

Currently, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. Working at the grassroots, national, and international levels. Inasmuch as the promotion of environmental conservation; building climate resilience and empowerment of African communities is concerned. Especially women and girls; to foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods.


In conclusion, Professor Wangari Maathai campaign on Peace and Environment continues to take shape even today. Whereas, the values and understanding she impacted through the Green Belt Movement won’t go on the ground any time soon. Hence in her journey for environmental conservation, she became a strong advocate for democracy and was involved in political activism.

One of her major campaigns centered around planting trees, and through the ‘Green Belt Movement,’ an organization Professor Maathai started, the movement has been able to plant over 45 million trees across the continent. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate once said that we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all. Following in her footsteps, many have come up with ideas and strategies to conserve the environment to create a sustainable world. Professor Maathai died on 25 September 2011 at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer.

Resourceful References;

See other related Celebrities and Public Figures as well as Climate Change and Weather News. Use the resourceful references below for more research learning online. Don’t forget to share your thoughts, contributions and additional information on the Comments Box below. For instance, in relation to the blog article topic subjects on weather and climate change effects.

  1. IPCC Organization: IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
  2. GBM Movement: The Green Belt Movement.
  3. Nobel Prize – The Nobel Peace Prize.
  4. Green Belt Movement: Wangari Maathai Biography.

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