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Tribute to Kenya's Nobel Laureate: Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)

Today, Kenya and the rest of the world are united in mourning following news of the death of Kenya's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai. Prof Maathai passed away at the Nairobi Hospital on the night of 25 September 2011 where she was undergoing treatment for cancer.

That Prof Wangari Maathai was a global icon and heroine goes without saying. Indeed, her life was an inspiration to many. Although I never had the opportunity to meet her in person, I was able to get a glimpse of her remarkable life story through her autobiography, Unbowed: One Woman's Story, which I read some time in mid-2008.

Wangari Maathai's achievements and struggles inspired me so much that in June 2008 I began a blog, Kenyan Women Professors, as a tribute to her and other Kenyan women professors who have overcome the odds and risen through the academic ranks to attain the status of associate professor or full professor.

Wangari Maathai will be remembered as a woman of many firsts. In 1971, she became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a PhD when she was awarded her doctorate in veterinary anatomy from the School of Veterinary Medicine, University College of Nairobi (present day University of Nairobi) and in 1977 she became the first Kenyan woman to attain the academic rank of associate professor.

In 2004, she became the first African woman to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work on environmental conservation and sustainable development.

And in April 2009, Prof Wangari Maathai became the first Kenyan ever to receive Japan's highest honour, the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, in recognition of her efforts to conserve and protect the environment. Her Mottainai campaign, which stressess the concept of reduce, reuse, recycle and repair for environmental protection, has made her very popular in Japan.

As we mourn the passing of this great visionary, I think that a fitting tribute to Wangari Maathai would be to plant and nurture trees and do all we can to conserve the environment and protect it from degradation.

Wangari Maathai lived a full life and has left us a rich legacy. Let us honour her memory by conserving the environment for future generations.

Rest In Peace, Wangari Maathai. Grass Will Grow.


Breese's picture

Taz - thank you so much for

Taz - thank you so much for sharing how Wangari Maathai impacted your life, and so many others. Have you seen this wonderful video of her?
I join you in your call for us to take on her legacy and protect the environment through sustainable development.

Taz's picture

Inspiring video

Hi Breese -- Thanks for your comment and thank you for sharing the 'Hummingbird' video; I hadn't seen it before. What an inspiring message! Indeed, we must all do whatever we can to protect the environment, even though it may seem like our individual efforts are dwarfed by the enormity of the challenging task. For if we each do our bit, then together we can have a great impact on a global scale!

Breese's picture

Absolutely, I'm with you!

Absolutely, I'm with you!

YAOtieno's picture

Hi Taz, Love your blog on

Hi Taz,

Love your blog on honor of Wangare and other women professors. Thanks for posting. Seems we have the same role model. Happy to connect with you



A candle looses nothing my lighting another

Taz's picture


Hi Y -- Glad to be in touch again through this online community. Thanks for your kind words about my blog. Wangari Maathai is truly an inspiration; her achievements are simply amazing!

enamara's picture

Lovely tribute

Hey Taz,

Lovely tribute indeed, She will greatly be missed but we have her vision to carry on, we have to conserve the environment.

RIP Wangari Maathai.

Taz's picture


Hi Evelyn -- Thanks for your comment. Yes, we mourn Wangari Maathai and yet our hearts are emboldened to carry on with her ideals. We each have a part to play as temporary tenants on Mother Earth to ensure that we nurture and preserve the environment for those yet to be born.

udoka29's picture

It's Unimaginable

It's sad that the great ones are lost so tragically. But at least no one can say that she did not live her live, impact people and her environment positive and leave something for generations to remember.

She will be truly and sadly missed...

Taz's picture

A life well lived

Hi Udoka -- Thanks for posting a comment. Yes, Wangari Maathai lived a life full of vision and passion for what she believed in, despite the many odds she faced. A true leader, she was.

MaDube's picture

Thank you so much

Thank you so much dear for this deserving tribute to one of Africa's greatest female minds and personalities. She was an inspiration to us all and leaves behind a rich legacy of what we as women can do when we dedicate ourselves to changing the world we live in. We shall surely miss her.

Taz's picture

Well said...

Hi MaDube -- Thanks for taking time to post a comment. Very well said! There's a lot we can do as women to make a positive difference to our world, individually and collectively. We need to always remain alive to that fact.

zoneziwoh's picture

Brilliant piece on about Prof

Brilliant piece on about Prof Wangari. It is with deepest sadness that I am writing my comments. I understand there can never be any amount of words that will sincerely explain how I feel about this big lost. I do pray May God continue to bless her family and should give them the grace to continue in her footstep. May God also continue to guide all the women globally and locally throughout this trial moment, as we commit in continuing Wangari vision for a better environment for all.

Many thanks dear sister for this powerful bio. I went through the website on Kenyan Women prof. my goodness! that is a brilliant initiative. Very good. keep up the good work

Stay Blessed



Facebook:Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @ZoFem

Taz's picture

Thanks Zoneziwoh

Hi Zoneziwoh, Thanks a lot for your comment, and your words of encouragement. I will try and keep up with my blogging project... I still have many more Kenyan women professors on my list and a number of profiles in the works. It's something I do in my free time but I'm committed to growing the content slowly but surely. Keep reading!

fem4femmes's picture

One seed at a time...


Professor Mattai's voice reached far and I have used her words for my own inspiration and the inspiration of others. May her greatest legacy be that inspiration for greater humanity through diligent social and environmental responsibility for she was right when she said, "All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet."

United in that spirit today,


"I am the flicker, flame, butterfly ablaze who wants to fly in search of mythical rainbows beyond the rain." ~ Ana Castillo

Taz's picture

Inspiring words

Hi Marissa -- Thanks for reading and for posting a comment. I'm so amazed at the impact that Prof Wangari Maathai's words had on such a wide spectrum of people around the world. Yes, we as Kenyans are proud of her achievements -- even though she was much scorned by many in leadership as she stepped on many toes and refused to compromise on her ideals. But Prof Maathai was also very much a citizen of the world, a global icon. All of this week, one of the Kenyan TV stations, K24, has been airing repeats of Wangari Maathai's interviews on a popular talk show called Capital Talk. It is really inspiring to hear once again her passionate calls for Kenyans to protect our forests and rivers. She truly cared for the environment and it is now up to us to carry forth her message and act to ensure that we each play our part in ensuring we leave the world a better place.


Thanks very much for this Taz.

After we wipe the tears.... Wangari
we hear the trees celebrating - Wangari
The rivers singing - Wangari
The women rising - Wangari
The girls winning - Wangari
Kenya victorious - Wangari

Wangari smiling Wangari
and in her own words..


"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

Taz's picture

Beautiful poem

Hi my sister -- Good to connect with you virtually. That's a beautiful poem in tribute to a strong woman of Kenya. Powerful lesson in the story of the hummingbird. If we all adopted such an attitude, we'd be very far ahead on the development road. But it all starts with the individual.... I too will be like the hummingbird!

faridaY's picture

Thank you for the tribute Taz

She was a trailblazer in the environmental movement not just in Africa but in the Nothern hemisphere as well. A few months ago I was gifted some trees. I have no space to plant them but I made sure I gave them to relatives who had space to plant them and called them to make sure they had done so. Without the work of campaigners like Prof. Maathai I may have just thrown the tree seedlings away, taking for granted their abundance in my country.
May Dr. Wangari Maathai 's soul rest in peace.

Taz's picture

You're welcome

Hi Farida Y,
Wow! You did well to give the tree seedlings a good 'home'... I suggest you dedicate them to Wangari Maathai's memory and in years to come as the seedlings grow into tall, strong trees, you and your relatives will have a story to tell about how it all began!

JMKELLAM's picture



Thank you for sharing your blog. I enjoyed reading it. I agree that planting trees in her honor would be a great way to remember and honor her.

There was a beautiful piece written by Jennifer Buffett from No Vo Foundation on meeting Wangari. It provided me with a personal connection her. I think you'd enjoy it.


Taz's picture


Hi Jenna -- I'm happy to know that you enjoyed reading my blog. Thank you for sharing the Huffington Post story by Jennifer Buffett; I found it a very moving tribute. Indeed, nature and the environment are a key part of the connectedness that binds us all in the web of life.


your life was influenced by Wangari Maathai! so many people's lives were touched by hers! what a great "achievement" for one woman!

working for the Ugandan women's interest organization ACFODE I very much like the following quote by her:

"African women in general need to know that it's OK for them to be the way they are - to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence."
Wangari Maathai

Taz's picture

Amazing influence

Hi Patricia,

Thanks for sharing that powerful quote by Wangari Maathai. She was indeed a woman of great wisdom and vision... her words are almost prophetic as she warns of the dire consequences of failing to nurture and protect Mother Earth!

I'm interested in reading more about the organization you work for, ACFODE, but the link to the website is not working :-(

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