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Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.

Connector of the day: Wangari Maathai

September 24th, 2009
03:11 PM ET

She introduced the Green Belt Movemment to Kenya and in the process became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize - astonishing achievements for one woman, but there is far more to Wangari Maathai than accolades and awards.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/24/art.maathai.afp.gi.pg.jpg caption="Wangari Maathai is the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize."]

A champion of peace and democracy in Africa her opinions and advice are sought by world leaders, but it is her work with young people that drives her on.

She served in the Kenyan parliament from 2003-2005 while continuing to pursue, and persaude others to join, her green agenda.

As comfortable in the forests of Kenya as she is on the ice covered peaks of the Arctic, Wangari Maathai is an inspirational character.

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. jeanne

    Good evening Beck,
    Thank you for this topic on Wangarai Maathai, I think it is one of the african whose movement shall really get the "carbon credit". Africans produce less carbon but suffer more from its effects. thanks

    September 24, 2009 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  2. Martha Sim, Rio de Janeiro

    "Produces but does not posses
    Act but does not flaunt
    Nurtures but does not dominate
    This is called mystic"
    (Tao te Ching, chapter 51)

    When I read Unbowed I realised, for the first time, that there was a sacred ecology.
    And I really thank you so much for showing me this delicate relantionship.

    September 25, 2009 at 3:32 am | Reply
  3. Troy Barrett

    In your opinion, what is the planet's biggest challenge today?

    September 25, 2009 at 9:33 am | Reply
  4. Kathy

    How bad is the situation of deforestation in Africa. What do you believe the impact of deforestation in Africa is or will be and will it be permanent? When will we start feeling the real effects and are they reversable. Is this an emergency?

    How is it that greedy individuals are able to cut down swathes of forestland and get away with it on a daily basis?

    What in your view should be done to stop deforestation in Africa ?

    September 25, 2009 at 10:23 am | Reply
  5. Edgar Mwai

    Am really worried about the Mau Forest saga which is a very important forest to the watercycle in kenya what are you doing or what can you do to help as we look towards people like you for help.

    New zealand

    September 25, 2009 at 10:24 am | Reply
  6. Penelope

    Professor Maathai –

    you have been fought against and at one stage even ridiculed in your country: why did you decide to go back and fight your battle? what motivated you, what is the force behind your tireless campaign?

    it takes a lot of courage to do what you have achieved. You are a true inspiration!

    September 25, 2009 at 10:29 am | Reply
  7. Nyambutu

    Waste management is also key in ensuring the sustenance of a healthy environment. Kenya's towns and rural areas, as far as Isiolo, are littered with plastic bags, which is not only a health hazard but also an eyesore. What do you think should be done to address this issue, other than creating more dumping sites? And why has the government not considered this an important aspect of the environment?

    September 25, 2009 at 10:32 am | Reply
  8. Maina

    Kenya is currently suffering from drought and its attendant effects. We have now learnt that meteorologists expect El Nino rain to hit us starting October. Already rains have started hitting some parts of Kenya and already some people have died of floods in the Western region of Kisumu while Maasai in the riftvalley still continue to see vast numbers of their cattle perishing due to the drought.
    Please talk about this phenomenon. What is wrong and what can be done to conserve water and the environment while making it an economic incentive for pastrolists like the Maasai to take part in water and environmental conservation.
    Thanks and keep up the great work.

    September 25, 2009 at 10:33 am | Reply
  9. Margaret Perkins

    Professor Maathai
    What do you feel are the biggest threats to the sustainability of the Green Belt Movement.
    Margaret

    September 25, 2009 at 10:42 am | Reply
  10. mogire

    There is this African proverb that loosely translates thus: A prophet is hardly recognized in his/her home area. Well this is one lady who has always been ahead of her time. She once famously cautioned about the vindictiveness of nature. The current prolonged drought and numerous hunger victims are clear indicators that it is pay back time. One Kenyan leader once contemptously referred her to as 'That Woman out for Cheap Publicity." Go Go, Wangari, at last you have been vindicated!

    September 25, 2009 at 10:56 am | Reply
  11. Jake

    What are you plans to make sure that the Mau Forest in Kenya is fully protected from the politicians? As you know there is a lot of poloticing over the Mau Forest as there WAS a lot of indigenous wood before most of it was cut down, it is one the Major water catchments for Kenyans and for the people down river in Tanzania. Further more it is the life line for the Mara River in Maasai Mara – Africa's greatest wildlife Reserve.

    What are your personal plans to make sure the government of Kenya does not ruin the forest forever, and what are your plans to reforest it – hopefully with indigenous trees and NOT GUM. Let's look at 50 years down the line here for the good of our children.

    I would like to end saying that I really do support the work you do, and thank you for making a difference. Well done. We need your support on this matter urgently.

    September 25, 2009 at 10:56 am | Reply
  12. kimutai sammy

    what will you do to convince the Kenyan government to protect our forests and conserve the environment?

    September 25, 2009 at 11:03 am | Reply
  13. Lupakisyo

    Madam Wangari Conglatulations for the nice work your doing! You truly possess an African heart of caring and loving. You are a model activist for our young generation of today, but , what's your stand on the rapid increase of population in Africa with contrary to the available resources which include available fertile land for agriculture thus resulting to defforestation? Cant you see that this problem hinders much your efforts in green movement because as i see the movement should also include population control especialy in Africa?

    September 25, 2009 at 11:13 am | Reply
  14. Dorcas

    I am a kenyan woman. In Kenya it is difficult to combine being a traditional woman and being a known success in the society.
    How do you do it?

    September 25, 2009 at 11:31 am | Reply
  15. Kathy

    I disagree with Lupakisy except for congratulating Wangari of course.

    Africa infact has a very low population and extremely high infant mortality rate and not to mention the unknown millions dying of Aids. and malaria. Also look at China and their severely failed policies on so called population control measures. No one has a right to declare over another how many children they should have! A silly, ridiculous and morally outrageous idea!!

    Poverty is due to mismanagement of natural resources,idle land, poor infrastructure and self-obsessed leaders making decisions on our behalf ( since we voted for them) without a purpose, vision, interest, knowledge or dream for where Africa can be. Thats why we have deforestation not to mention everything else!

    Thankyou Proffessor Wangari for being so brave, such a fighter, fighting alone many times and never giving up. Your example is a lesson to all of us. I have your book and sometimes refer to it like a manual on occasions!

    September 25, 2009 at 11:37 am | Reply
  16. Patrick

    My opinion is different. I would like to ask Proff Wangari Mathai "How many trees have you planted after receiving the Nobel prize for peace?". We dont see your active role in the protection of Mau forest and the settlement of people living in that area! Still Kenyan forest are being burnt to make charcoal. It is not only the case in Mau but also Aberdares, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, Ngong etc.

    September 25, 2009 at 11:41 am | Reply
  17. Michael Ndenga

    The Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga is holding discussions with global leaders and institutions to raise funds for compentation of those encroaching on the Mau complex to faciliate their eviction. We know that his party the ODM for which he is a party leader is a coalition partner to the Kenya government. In the event that he doesnt succeed in raising funds, will he get backing from the other side of government to finance the relocation from a budgetary allocation given that the other side of the devide may want him to fail in this attempt for polical mileage?

    Secondly, the River Nile treaty signed at the dawn of the last century "prohibits" the East African countries from using the lake Victoria waters for purposes such as irrigation and therefore favouring Egypt since this lake is source of River Nile. Is this really sustainable? What are your thoughts for the future?

    Nairobi, Kenya

    September 25, 2009 at 11:52 am | Reply
  18. John Karanja

    Dear Wangari,

    Is climate change real and how can developing nations contribute to reducing their carbon emissions without endagering their own economies?

    JohnKaranja.com

    September 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  19. Odek Fred

    Dear Professor Wangari ,

    Congratulations for the work you have done and achieved to date . Personally i am a Kenyan Based here in Nairobi and key to my concerns are four issues that i believe you should help Kenyans address for prosperity and conservation reasons.

    1. The government must stop forthwith the shamba system if forest recovery plans were to work and thats an issue you must explain to the authorities without fear or favour .
    2. I need to know why Kenya can not ensure that all forest and mountains are put under the management of Kenya Forests as a ministry and treat them as national treasures controlled by legislation .
    3. Same should be be done to national parks and game reserves and ensure that Laikia , Maasai Mara Game Reserves are all under KWS . Please note that conservation efforts violation are more rampant in this reserves as land is easily transfered compared to what is being managed by KWS .

    4. Lake Victoria is not a problem if we use rivers within the country properly and ensure that we do not waste rivers into Victoria and the sea we will have anough to last generations .

    Just a few of my tohughts i felt i should share with you .

    Odek Fred

    September 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  20. Josephine

    Hi Wangari,
    Read an article in the African Business (a magazine) on your life, challenges you've faced so far both personally and professionally and a short review of your book-The Challenge For Africa, and i would like you to know that i was deeply inspired to strive for more not just for myself, but for my country and continent. Keep up the good work.
    My question: What kept you going despite the many obstacles you faced? Did you ever feel like giving up?
    Thank you.

    September 25, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  21. Moses Mwangi

    Professor Maathai, by confronting former President Moi on crimes against humanity and, destruction of the environment, one can only say you have been to where only eagles dared and lived to tell the tale. But of late, the fire in you seems to have gone down. Can you come rekindle the fires to stop politicians from playing politics with the water towers conservation in Kenya?

    September 25, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  22. Andrew Wilson in Dominican Republic

    Professor Maathai – UN Millennium Development Goals are being treated by countries as targets or the level to be achieved, not surpassed. So, in their weak attempts to demonstrate effort, they use proximity as a measure of success. If this continues to be acceptable, we will always lag behind efforts end poverty. How do we arrest the mentality to approach MDGs only in incremental fashion, but instead with forms social entrepreneurship that accelerates progress on an exponential scale? How do we approach this on a macro level, institutionally among nation-states? What do you suggest?

    September 25, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  23. Tuula

    Dear Mrs. Maathai,
    is there anything to be done for the Maasai people who are allowed to live in natural conservation areas both in Kenya and Tanzania for example, but they do not seem to respect the nature where they're living in. We visited Kenya and Tanzania last year and drove through nature reserves and the litter and the amount of plastic bags and bottles around small villages was devastating. The wind there on the plain took care of the litter to spread widely, too. So dangerous to wild animals. That was a really sad sight.

    September 25, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  24. Jaduong Jakenya

    The world needs more visionary leaders like you Professor. May God keep you well and best wishes as you soldier on.

    Question: Is it not a mockery of the word 'compensation' that the Kenyan parliament and government should agree to pay people who illegally acquired land in the Mau water catchment area as well as those who hold the same land by virtue of transmission from them?

    Question: What, in your view should be the way forward for Kenya in situations such as this when: –

    Firstly, the decision to compensate is made by the Cabinet and ratified by parliament (or the other way round) when these two institutions constitute the beneficiaries of the bulk of the land;

    Secondly, the same bunch of people must have received payment or other consideration or favour (and therefore 'compensation') from the present holders of title to the land; and

    Thirdly, the 'compensation' is of course to be funded by tax revenue to which the majority of the group making the so called compensation decision do not contribute because of the several exemptions from tax they enjoy by virtue of their offices.

    September 25, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  25. Ngumi

    Dear Prof. Maathai,

    First, congratulations for the dignified manner in which you have carried yourself in Kenyan politics, it is admirable seeing there is a dearth of virtue there.

    Secondly, I would have wished to seek your views on the water catchment areas surrounding the Mau Complex in Kenya but I see this has been adequately addressed above. I will however highlight a major issue of concern which seems not to have been touched on.

    The East African countries have in the recent past been arguing that the Nile Water Treaty of 1929 between Egypt and Great Britain (GB signed on behalf of its East African colonies) which grants to Egypt the lion's share of the water from the Nile is obsolete and no longer relevant in modern times.

    In the light of the fact that there are increasingly few water sources in sub-saharan Africa, and more so in the light of various assessments that have been made showing the likelihood of international conflict arising out of the lack of water resources:

    (i) how prepared are the Governments of sub-saharan Africa nations in dealing with the impeding crisis?

    (ii) what can the younger generations do to avert the impeding crisis?

    (iii) In your view, is it accurate that the shortage of water sources in sub-saharan Africa by 2025 may create "water wars"?

    September 25, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  26. Sos

    It's an honour to listen to Wangari Maathai leave alone seeing her actions.Kenya's environmental policies and agendas would not be where they are without her contribution.My question is,since she is away from the current regime,is she planning to go back to competitive politics?

    September 25, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  27. Can Kıranlar

    Where did you get the motivation,or perhaps,encouragement (if the conditions in Africa taken into consideration) to realise all these things? All you have achieved so far...It's amazing!!!

    September 25, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  28. Kariuki

    what do you make of countries ( South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc) leasing land in Africa to grow their own food. Does not feel right to me why can't these African counties grow the food and sell them to these nations

    September 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  29. MOOK

    Dear Prof Mathai,
    The issue of settlements in the water catchment area is affecting not only the county's environment but also those countries like Egypt depending on Kenya on it's waters.
    Could it not be a possibility of resettling people in the semi arid areas with help from countries depending on the Kenyan water resources – Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia? This would make the area open to development.

    September 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  30. steve

    Hi prof,ur one of those few people especially in Africa we can always count on in terms of being role models to youths like me and others globally.I would only encourage you to keep on the good deeds you're doing not only to the people of Kenya but to the entire world through you Green Belt Movement.Thank you

    September 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  31. Marvin

    brazilian embassy has been attack here in Honduras

    September 25, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  32. Afam Nobleman

    Pro. Maathai, this week the world had the it's leaders make some remarkable speeches on climate change but African leaders seem not to be concerned, what's your take on this?

    September 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  33. Afam Nobleman

    Pro. Maathai, this week the world had the it's leaders make some remarkable speeches on climate change but African leaders seem not to be concerned, what's your take on this?

    Lagos, Nigeria

    September 25, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  34. m riitho

    Prof. Maathai,
    Will you reconcile with ex-president Daniel arap Moi?I think it would be good for our country

    September 25, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  35. Kennedy, Birmingham, UK

    Hello Wangari!
    As a role model for the African continent and women in particular, do you think you have impacted POSITIVELY on the womenfolk? What are the traditional and cultural impediments do you think that will liberate the African woman to achieve a success? Is the global warming a myth or real? And how far has Africa gone to prevent this global catastrophe?

    September 25, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  36. Senyaely Jacob Kereiya

    Wow !
    This is a good example for African leader to inspire for the future generation to follow her step and keep to preserve natural resources
    Madam keep it up good job

    September 25, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  37. Dominique

    First I would like to say THANK YOU for what you have done and continue to do.You have shown again the power of individual responsibility and what ONE person can accomplish and the light they can shine for others.

    I notice everyone keeps asking you what YOU are going to do about this and that....it is up to each one of us to do what we can. If we ALL take action we can do anything .Thank you for your voice in the world.

    September 25, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  38. Matida

    how did it feel to stand on the world stage while accepting the nobel price, with the full knowledge that u were a beacon of hope and inspiration for many of us young african women?

    September 25, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  39. Eric

    After being the first African woman to win the Nobel prize, what is next for Prof. Maathai?

    What message do you have to all young people looking up to you as a role model?

    September 25, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  40. Obatunde Oladapo

    Prof.

    The problems of deforestation and carbon emission is increasing in Nigeria by the day especially with the poor electricity supply situation. Almost every household uses gasoline or diesel electricity generator while rural women cook with charcoal and firewood. Our country is growing less green by the minute.

    I am interested in replicating the Green Belt Movement in Nigeria. How do I go about it?

    September 25, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  41. Murtaza

    As a Kenyan, I have pride in the Honorable Wangari Mathai! keep up the good job for the earth and the people of the earth ...

    September 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  42. Queeny

    Education and more education to build the capacities of community. Ms. Wangari please find a way to begin this in schools, churches, mosques etc.. wherever the young generation will be so that they can begin to learn the importance of conserving the environment early. We need to begin this culture.

    At the moment, there should be mechanisms put in place to fine heavily any persons disrupting the environment e.g. littering around, peeing around, spitting around which is so disgusting

    November 3, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Reply
  43. George Gachihi

    I love and respect Proff. Wangari Mathai for all that she has so persistently advocated for and for her commitment to the plight of the poor, food for the future and coservation of our PLANET.

    Please let her once more stand up for GMO's I believe that she is aware of the damage that they have caused in countries like INDIA....

    September 3, 2010 at 6:32 am | Reply

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