Sad news today as Wangari Maathai
, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, has passed away
in Nairobi. The Green Belt Movement
, which Maathai founded in 1977, has planted over 30 million trees and advocates for what Maathai called the three essential components of a stable society: sustainable environmental management, democratic governance, and a culture of peace. [Video Below]
“Almost every conflict in Africa you can point at has something to do with competition over resources in an environment,” said Maathai during her visit to the Wilson Center in 2009:
Unless you deal with the cause, you are wasting your time. You can use all the money you want for all the years you want; you will not solve the problem, because you are dealing with a symptom. So we need to go outside that box and deal with development in a holistic way.Maathai’s message was molded from her experiences in Kenya and across sub-Saharan Africa in general. She was not shy about condemning African leaders and advocating for women in the political space. In ECSP Report 12, she wrote, “I come from a continent that has known many conflicts for a long time. Many of them are glaringly due to bad governance, unwillingness to share resources more equitably, selfishness, and a failure to promote cultures of peace.”
Importantly, though, Maathai advocated for addressing these issues in concert, not separately. She said at the Wilson Center:
I can’t say, ‘Let us deal with governance this time, and don’t worry about the resources.’ Or, ‘Don’t worry about peace today, or conflicts that are going on; let us worry about management of resources.’ I saw that it was very, very important to use the tree-planting as an entry point.A Message to the World
Some raised questions when Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 – the first awarded to someone from the environmental field – but the recognition was more than deserved, wrote Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) Director Geoff Dabelko on Grist:
Maathai is on the front lines of the struggle over natural resources that fuels conflicts across the world. While there is no dramatic footage of tanks rumbling across borders or airplanes flying into buildings, the everyday fight for survival of those who depend directly on natural resources – forests, water, minerals – for their livelihoods is at the heart of the battle for peace and human security.Maathai explained in Report 12 that she thought her winning of the prize was intended as a message to the world to “rethink peace and security.”
Elevating such a strong Southern voice – and one whose elephant’s skin bears the scars of the fight for peace – is a noble choice.
The Nobel Committee “wanted to challenge the world to discover the close linkage between good governance, sustainable management of resources, and peace,” she wrote. “In managing our resources, we need to realize that they are limited and need to be managed more sustainably, responsibly, and accountably.”
Sources: Grist, The New York Times.
Photo Credit: David Hawxhurst/Wilson Center.