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Green Warrior and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai is No More
Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who started out by paying women a few shillings to plant trees and went on to be come the first African woman
to win a NobelÂ Peace Prize, died late on September 25, 2011 after battling cancer. She was 71.
Maathai, one of the most famous and widely respected women on the continent, wore many hatsâ€”environmentalist, feminist, politician, anti-corruption campaigner, human rights advocate, protester and head of the Green Belt Movement she founded. She was as comfortable in the greety streets of Nairobiâ€™s slums or the muddy hillsides of Central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Maathai toured the world speaking out against environmental degradation and povertyâ€”which she believed were intimately connectedâ€”but never lost focus on her native Kenya. She served as a parliamentarian and assistant minister for several years, and in 2008, after being pushed out of government, she was teargassed by Kenyan police during a Â protest against the excesses of Kenyaâ€™s well-entrenched political class.
â€œWangari Maathai was known to speak truth to power,â€ said John Githongo, and anti-corruption campaigner in Kenya who was forced into exile for several years for his own Â outspoken views. â€œShe blazed a trail in whatever she did, whether it was in the environment, politics, whatever.â€Â
Wangari Muta Maathai was born in 1940 in Nyeri, Kenya, a mid-sized town in the foothills of Mount Kenya. She won a scholarship to study biology in the US, and went on to
obtain a doctorate in veterinary anatomy. She formed the Green Belt Movement in 1977 which planted trees across Kenya to fight erosion and create fuel and jobs for women.
During the 1980s, the Kenyan government labelled the Green Belt Movement â€˜subversiveâ€™. Not long afterward, during a protest, Maathai was beaten unconscious by police.
Home life wasnâ€™t easy either. Her husband, Mwangi, divorced her, saying she was too strong-minded for a woman. When she lost her divorce case and criticized the judge, she was thrown in jail.
Her battle with cancer was a surprise to many in Nairobi. She is survived by three children, Waweru, Wanjira and Muta, and a granddaughter Ruth Wangari.Â