Prominent Kenyan leaders - Prof. Wangari Maathai

Wangari was born in Nyeri District of Central Province in 1940. She studied at St. Cecilia’s Intermediate School and Loreto Girls High School. She then proceeded to Mt. St. Schlolastica College in Atchison, Kansas, USA. While there, she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree. She then proceeded to Pittsburgh where she got a Masters of Science degree. She taught at the University of Nairobi while she continued with her studies.

In 1976 and 1977, she became the first woman to be elected the Chairperson of her Department. She was the first in Eastern and Central Africa to hold such a position. She was an active member of the National Council of Women of Kenya between 1976 and 1987. While there, she introduced the idea of planting trees with the help of the local communities. She saw this as a way of reducing poverty in rural areas

She started an organisation called “The Green Belt Movement.” Through it, she has planted nearly 40 million trees in the country, especially on public land including farms, schools and church compounds. She joined organisations that campaigned for the cancellation of debt for poor African countries. She also campaigned against land grabbing, and this gave negative publicity to the country.

She persistently struggled for democracy, human rights and the conservation of the environment. She has given talks at many international conferences as well as the United Nations General Assembly.

In 2004, Maathai was internationally recognised and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was the first African woman to win the award. She has been awarded many other local and international awards. In 2005, she was honoured by Time Magazine as one of 100 most influential people in the world. Forbes Magazine honoured her as one of 100 most powerful women in the world.

Maathai has published many articles in international magazines. She has also written two of her own books titled Unbowed (an autobiography) and The Green Belt movement: Sharing the approach and the Experience. This second book explains the methods she has used to involve rural women.

In her work. Maathai served on many boards of organisations both in Kenya and internationally. She is also on the United Nations Secretary General Advisory Board. In 2002, Prof. Maathai was elected as a Member of Parliament for Tetu Constituency in Nyeri District. She served as an Assistant Minister for

Environment and Natural resources from 2003- 2007.  Prof. Maathai was also honoured with an appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem. In this position she is able to campaign for the Conservation and protection of the Congo Forest. Prof. Maathai has been given numerous awards both in Kenya and overseas in recognition of her efforts to conserve the environment.