Maathai Recounts Life Journey in Unbowed

wangari maathaiWangari Maathai, the founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004), recently concluded a U.S. tour for her new autobiography, Unbowed.

Wangari Maathai has recently toured with her new book, Unbowed.

Wangari Maathai, the founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004), recently concluded a U.S. tour for her new autobiography, Unbowed. Written in response to the many questions she’s been asked about her motivation and life experiences, the memoir relates Maathai’s personal journey and struggles for women’s rights and the environment in Kenya. Now the country’s deputy minister for the environment and natural resources and a member of parliament, Maathai tells her story in a straightforward, humble manner.

Recounting her birth and early years in the small Kenyan village of Ihithe in the 1940s, Maathai provides insight into the historical and cultural context of her youth. She explains her reasons for doing so in a September 2006 interview with Library Journal, noting that while teaching about her country and Africa is not the main focus of her book, “Many Africans grew up in the colonial and post-colonial period, and this book may help others understand how that experience shaped who we are today.”

The book describes Maathai’s early determination to get an education, leading to her eventual studies in the United States and to her prowess in becoming the first Kenyan woman to earn a Ph D. Maathai, who believes that education “should not take people away from the land” and alienate them from the natural world, also recounts an emotional return to her country.

It is in this setting that her courageous struggles for environmental and social justice are best displayed. Even after suffering harassment and violence at the hands of the oppressive Moi government, Maathai persevered in establishing the Green Belt Movement in 1977. The campaign, which began as a grassroots effort, has since mobilized more than 100,000 women to plant over 40 million trees across Africa, reducing soil erosion in key watersheds and improving biodiversity.

In the years to come, Maathai hopes to continue her involvement in environmental politics in Kenya. “If a law is made then you actually have an opportunity to influence future generations,” she explained in a 2004 interview with World Watch magazine. But while she intends to focus mainly on helping her native country, Maathai is ambitious about the wider impact of her autobiography. “I hope when people read my book they will identify their own experiences in my life’s journey and will be encouraged to embrace and make the best of theirs,” she says. 


This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.