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 57.

    We have lost a visionary. She was an inspiration to so many......

    Pumzika kwa amani, Mwalimu.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    To the Family and World of Mother Wangari Muta Maathai:
    And I cry to myself, Lord why?
    But HE knows. No more pain, Mama.
    It appears that nothing surpasses
    all your grief and despair,
    But God is a Mighty Refuge,
    And your loved one is in His care.
    We will miss her physical being here on this earth, but her love,character and teachings will ALWAYS be in your hearts.
    Peace Be Unto You.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I was so sorry and very saddened to hear of the passing of Dr.Mrs. Maathai. I have noted her progress & successes through the years. I have been proud of her determination, through all! I pray to have some of her willing Spirit.We are kindred spirits of a sort- never met-but, we do share the same birthdate. To Family: I pray God give you Peace in your time of Sorrow. R.I.P., Mother. A US Friend

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Add your very painful to lost a great hero like that,am sincerely sympathesed to all her family and her country,may her soul rest in perfect peace

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I love this lady. She left her home as a young lady conquered America and went home to recieve the 1st Phd issued by her school to a woman. When her husband acted up, he had to go and she finished raising her kids by herself. She could have made a mint, comfy in the US but, she dedicated her life to saving the environment when nobody cared, battling corruption. Send one more like her, RIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Dr. Wangari Maathai also founded the first Green Party in Kenya, and was a member of the Global Greens, a fact that always seems to be missing when people report her achievements. She became an icon to Canadian Greens in launched a full slate of candidates in 2004. She was my inspiration when we gave all we had and finally succeeded in electing our own first Green MP: Elzabeth May this year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    My thoughts and prayers go to the family of Prof Mathai at this difficult time.
    She has been an inspiration to kenyan women and those of the world. Prof Mathai
    has taught us that hard work argumented with determination can make the world a better place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Africa, has lost a great woman, a leader and a role model. Wangari Maathai was indeed a true leader a an inspiration to women in Africa.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, Kenya and Africa

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    BBC has effectively shutdown "Have Your Say", very little can be said about Ms. Maathai or anything that needs saying about any important world issues. BBC decides what is important. Most readers and writers are disappointed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I am awfully sorry she has passed away and my deepest condolences for her family and friends and I would like to express my respect and admiration for her and all she achieved.
    I always thought that she looked much younger than her age and that is due, in my opinion, to her strenght, bliss and because she kept her heart young with projects and illusions.
    God bless her and rest in peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I met her fifteen years ago,... She had the most amazing glow about her.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    May God put her soul in peace indeed she was a good woman for us .Rest in peace Mama

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    MABIL DAU MABIL -JUBA SOUTH SUDAN=All the relatives and government of Kenya to be transparent to the children of the late Wangari Maathai.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The fact that so many people seem to have never heard of her is testament to the distorted priorities we seem to place in our media and information sources.

    The world is a better place for the likes of Maathai. Her sense of humility and her courage were just two rare qualities that she shared with Mandela and Gandhi. We all need more of her kind.

  • 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 41.

    God gives and God takes. It is sad to lose such an iconic figure as Prof Maathia. May her efforts not go in vain and that many people may draw alot of inspiration from what she has left behind. My kind thoughts and prayers to family and friends. May her soul RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    sad development. May her soul rest in everlasting peace.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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