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PROFESSOR WANGARI MAATHAI

Wangari Maathai

Professor Wangari Muta Maathai is clearly a torch-bearer in the feminist movement in Kenya and is reknowned worldwide for her tremendous efforts toward the achievement of global environmental protection. She shot into prominence with the Green Belt Movement, an environmental protection organisation that virtually put her on a collision path with President Moi, whose goverment she claimed was employing destructive deforestation practices. After a barrage of insults and accusations from the Moi administration, that frankly had everything to do with her gender and nothing to do with her environmental proposals, Prof. Maathai prevailed, and continues to champion her noble cause to this day.

Wangari Maathai was born in 1940, in Nyeri Town, Kenya. She was trained in Biological Sciences and went on to join the University of Nairobi(UoN), where she obtained a Doctorate Degree. In 1976, Maathai became the first Kenyan woman to head the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi. In 1977, in her vintage sky's the limit fashion, she became an Associate Professor at the University. But scholastic excellence was not the only passion for the ambitious Maathai. She was already an active participant in the budding feminist movement in Kenya. From 1981-87 she was Chairperson of the National Council of Women of Kenya(NCWK). It was during her reign as the Chairperson of NCWK that she initiated her famous Green Belt Movement and empowered her female colleagues to play a more active role in environmental conservation in general and tree planting in particular. The Green Belt Movement, which started as a grassroots organisation in the early 80's, grew very rapidly, even to the surprise of its founder Maathai, and in 1986, established a Pan African Green Belt Network which led to the adoption of Green Belt Methods in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and some other countries in the region.

Though the Green Belt Movement has enjoyed tremendous success in the field of environmental conservation, it is equally important to underscore its input to the national economy. Thanks to the movement, tree planting has become an income generating activity where farmers sell tree seedlings to the movement and get the much needed cash to conduct their day to day activities. Trees are also an important asset to farmers because they are instrumental in preventing soil erosion, which is a major problem for farmers in Africa. Riding on the tremendous success she has had on the environmental conservation front, Maathai has in recent years redirected her efforts towards another very noble cause; The struggle for Human Rights in Kenya. If track records are anything to go by, its only fair that she lead the way in this yet another arduous but extremely important task.

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