Prof Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan heroine because of her great patriotism which fired her to fight against one party dictatorship and for multiparty democracy.
On account of this struggle, she was insulted, humiliated, mocked, slighted, attacked and even jailed by the government.
But notwithstanding this, the freedoms of expression, movement, assembly, political association that we enjoy today are courtesy of contributions from her and other Kenyan patriots.
Second, Prof Maathai will be remembered for the work that won her the Nobel Peace Prize – protecting the environment and preserving forests that were, and still are, being fast decimated under the very watch of forest officers paid to protect them.
Prof Maathai’s third contribution was her struggle for the release of political prisoners – including me – whose mothers gathered at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, to demonstrate, sacrifice comforts and suffer cold and hunger until their sons were freed from jail.
Despite her elitist status, Prof Maathai came down to join illiterate mothers, wear their chains, speak English for them with Attorney-General Amos Wako and be their bridge with donor countries whose aid money was financing their sons’ incarceration and one-party dictatorship instead of promoting democracy.
For this work, the world gave her many awards including the Nobel Prize.
Despite extraordinary acknowledgement by the world, in Kenya, Prof Maathai was the prophet that is hailed everywhere but home. Rather than acknowledge her, the Kenyan ruling class fought her in every way.
Although the President gives awards to people every year, both President Moi and President Kibaki gave her nothing.
In 2003, President Kibaki even appointed her an assistant minister in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to work under Dr Newton Kulundu who was less qualified than her in that area.
Ultimately Central Province politicians fought her out of Parliament as MP for Tetu constituency.
The question we must ask is; why did the Kenyan ruling class stand united against her? What caused their antipathy for her?
Like heroes in most countries, Prof Maathai triggered the hostility of leaders when she shamed them by attacking their greed, grabbing mania and oppression of the downtrodden.
For criticising and opposing power, the leaders never forgave her, even when she sought reconciliation with them.
They also abhorred her because she spoke against them when they grabbed land from forests like Karura, attempted to destroy Uhuru Park and protested against the jailing and detention of other heroes like Rumba Kinuthia, Mirugi Kariuki, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia and others who were incarcerated for demanding freedom, rights and democracy.
When she campaigned for multiparty democracy, leaders also hated her as saw her as a threat to the rule of their one-party dictatorship.
Worst, she committed a mortal sin when she forgot the presidency is the preserve of certain people and their children and vied for it.
She also evoked the wrath of Central Province leaders by failing to submit herself to their leadership, command and dictation.
For failing to submit herself to ethnic leadership, she was depicted as a traitor to her community and its leadership and subsequently politically ostracised.
Despite this, the leaders will try and make political capital out of her death by singing insincere praises to her and even giving her a State funeral.
Whatever we do, let us honour our heroes when they are alive and not in death.