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
    +10

    Comment number 22.

    People like Maathai are not simply "daughter of Kenya". They belong to all humanity equally, and all of us can be inspired by them.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 25.

    Her indomitable spirit and unfailing grace in the face of adversity have and always shall remain her legacy. Thank you Mama Wangari for carving out a path for Africa's (and indeed the world's) daughters. Having followed her trials since I was a little girl, her accomplishments showed that faith in one's cause can overcome adversity. Lala Salama Mama.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 17.

    In a country [and continent] where women leadership is still passed as a joke as I write, Maathai was one to watch. And no corrupt belly could shake a bone in this woman. Thank you for leaving us a legacy at Green Belt Movement. We sure will miss your energy.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1.

    The passing of a great woman. May she inspire many more such.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 3.

    I am sad that someone for whom I had a lot of respect is no longer with us. I hope that Kenyan women as well as others around the world will fulfill her wish for women to be more active in the community. I especially call out to those whom I taught in Voi in 1972-3.

 

Comments 5 of 57

 

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