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.