Kenya's Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai dies aged 71


The BBC's Will Ross said Ms Maathai was seen as a source of inspiration

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Kenya's Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai has died in Nairobi while undergoing cancer treatment. She was 71.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for promoting conservation, women's rights and transparent government - the first African woman to get the award.

She was elected as an MP in 2002 and served as a minister in the Kenyan government for a time.

Ms Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has planted 20-30 million trees in Africa.

'Role model and heroine'

"It is with great sadness that the family of Professor Wangari Maathai announces her passing away on 25 September, 2011, at the Nairobi Hospital, after a prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer," the Green Belt Movement said in a statement.

"Her loved ones were with her at the time.

"Professor Maathai's departure is untimely and a very great loss to all who knew her - as a mother, relative, co-worker, colleague, role model, and heroine; or who admired her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier, and better place."

The organisation did not provide further details.

Ms Maathai, who was a professor of veterinary anatomy, rose to international fame for campaigns against government-backed forest clearances in Kenya in the late 1980s-90s.

Under the former government of President Daniel Arap Moi, she was arrested several times, and vilified.

In 2008, Ms Maathai was tear-gassed during a protest against the Kenyan president's plan to increase the number of ministers in the cabinet.

The BBC's Solomon Mugera met Ms Maathai a number of times.

For those who loved and admired her, she was "Wangari wetu" - our Wangari - he says. But for her enemies, she was derided as "yule mwanamke" - that woman.

In her speech accepting the Nobel prize, Ms Maathai said she hoped her own success would spur other women on to a more active role in the community.

"I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership," she said.

The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said she was saddened by the news.

"Africa, particularly African women, have lost a champion, a leader, an activist. We're going to miss her. We're going to miss the work she's been doing all these years on the environment, working for women's rights and women's participation," she said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    In Japan Wangari Maathai is known as the activist who spread "Mottainai spirit".

    Mottainai is a Japanese word, means a feeling cherishing everything not to waste thing's value,worth,or merit.

    And I'd like to say is just "Her death is Mottainai"

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Sorry to hear of the death of this great lady who accomplished so much.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends at this sad time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I've been collaborating with Pro Maathia now since August 1999. We worked on afforestation projects in C/Africa, and we had just started our third project, "AFFORESTATION OF THE ZAMBEZI RIVER CATCHMENT AREA". Prof Maathia used several of my images in her publications. She was an inspiration to us all.....Perspicacious, insouciant and one who went about her daily chores with consummate equanimity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Africa has become poorer with the demise of such an icon and a pacesetter for women in particular. Good bye Mama Matai, you have fulfilled your vision of women emancipation and keeping the environment green and clean. You were such a great model for African women , moving ahead even in the face of formidable obstacles. Fare the well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Oh my goodness. This comes as a surprise to us. I have always adored her. As a Ugandan environmentalist, I have lived towards her statements and her efforts of a tree for each individual. Its a great blow to the world of environment.


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