NAIROBI, Kenya — Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who started out by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees and went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, died late on Sunday.
She’s a hero of mine.
MAATHAI: I realized part of the problems that we have in the rural areas or in the country generally is that a lot of our people are not free to think, they are not free to create, and, therefore, they become very unproductive. They may have knowledge. They may have gone to school but they are trained to be directed. They are trained to be told what to do. And that is some of the unmasking that the Green Belt Movement tries to do, is to empower people, to encourage them, to tell them it’s okay to dream, it’s okay to think, it’s okay to change your minds, it’s okay to think on your own, it’s okay to decide this is what you want to do. You don’t have to wait for someone else to tell you.
In the beginning I was intrigued because it’s such a benign activity. It’s development, exactly what every leader speaks about and so I thought that we would be celebrated and we would be supported by the system. But what I did not realize then is that in many situations, leaders, especially leaders in undemocratic countries, have not been keen to inform their people to empower their people to help them solve their problems. They almost want them to remain needy, to remain poor, to remain dis-empowered so that they can look up to them, almost like gods and adore them and worship them and hope that they will solve their problems. Now, I couldn’t stand that.
MAN: An assistant minister, Mr. John Keene, said his great respect for women had been greatly eroded by her utterances. Mr Keene asked her and her clique of women to tread cautiously, adding “I don’t see the sense at all in a bunch of divorcees coming out to criticize such a complex.”
MAATHAI: That’s when they reminded me who I am in terms of gender and what I am in terms of social status. And I was described in several adjectives which were very unflattering. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for them, that did not deter me and I did not get intimidated.
LOBET: A few years earlier her husband had divorced her, saying publicly she was too stubborn and too hard to control. She had transgressed when she became more educated than he was. She transgressed when she did not retreat after divorce and now she was criticizing the president.
VOICEOVER: Before, I worked in the farm compound and looked after my children. I couldn’t stand up amongst people, or give them my views about things. I was not able to do even the smallest thing in this respect.
[KAGIITHI SPEAKING SWAHILI]
VOICEOVER: Professor came here and she showed us that a woman has the right to speak, and when she speaks, she can make things advance. A woman has a right to speak. And now I feel if I speak, things can move forward.