Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai dies in Nairobi

Monday September 26 2011

By NATION Reporter ([email protected])

Prof Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace laureate and conservation heroine, has died in Nairobi after a long battle with cancer. She was 71.

The environmentalist and politician died at the Nairobi Hospital at around 10pm on Sunday, officials at her Greenbelt Movement organisation told (SEE In Pictures: Wangari Maathai)

Prof Maathai will be remembered for her courage and tenacity in seeking social justice, conservation, democracy and corruption.

She successfully fought off an attempt by the Moi regime to build a 60-storey building at Uhuru Park, at the centre of Nairobi city. She also took on powerful individuals in the Moi government who had hived off parts of the Karura forest in the outer fringes of the city.

She also joined mothers of political prisoners in a hunger strike in a quest to force then President Moi to free them. (READERS' SAY: Share your Wangari Maathai quotes)

The environmentalist later joined politics and was in 2002 elected the Member of Parliament for Tetu, Nyeri District and served as an Assistant Minister in President Kibaki's first government.

Known for her love for trees, Prof Maathai was in 2004 awarded the Nobel peace prize for her conservation efforts.

She was also a celebrated academic having been the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.


President Kibaki sent condolences from New York where he had travelled to attend the UN General Assembly.

"It is with a deep sense of sadness and sorrow that I learnt of the death of Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai. On behalf of the government and people of Kenya and on my own behalf I send you this message of sympathy, at this time when we mourn a global icon who has left an indelible mark in the world of environmental conservation.

"With the passing on of Professor Maathai, the country and the world has not only lost a renowned environmentalist and but also a great human rights crusader," said a dispatch from President Kibaki's press service.

Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete was amongst the first world leaders to celebrate the professor.

"Rest in peace Dr Wangari Maathai. A great woman, an inspiration for many women across Africa, a magnificent visionary & embodiment of courage," President Kikwete said via twitter.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said Prof Maathai would forever be celebrated and honoured (READ: Maathai a courageous woman: Annan).

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said: "I join Kenyans and friends of Kenya in mourning the passing on of this hero of our national struggles. Hers has been heroism easily recognised locally and abroad, one attained in her life time and therefore not left to historians to interpret."

Prof Maathai got her degree in biological sciences from Mount St Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas in 1964 before earning a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh two years later.

Her official profile says that she later pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi (UoN), obtaining a Ph.D in 1971 from the UoN where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively.