Wangari Maathai, who sadly died yesterday, was an inspiration to Greens across the world and to women, in particular. I remember being at a Scottish Green Party conference in Dundee in 2004 where we paid tribute to Dr Maathai’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. We might have been a small party facing a mighty challenge but the knowledge that a Kenyan colleague, once labelled a “crazy woman”, was with us, helped us appreciate that our own community activism was important, much as Petra Kelly of the German Greens, in the past, and Marina Silva of the Brazilian Greens, more recently have done.
Wangari understood that making a better society went hand in hand with protecting the environment. The Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977, has planted an estimated 45 million trees around Kenya. One tree at a time.
But, of course, it was not just trees. She was creating employment in rural areas. She was challenging post-colonial development models and she was bringing women out of the shadows. One commentator has said: “Wangari Maathai dedicated her life to empowering women and girls, to restoring her once fertile and forested homeland and to working for democracy and global peace.”
I cannot do justice to all that Wangari Maathai has done. But she made a difference. Let’s all follow her lead.