WANGARI MAATHAI Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


Biography » theater opera and movie personalities » wangari maathai


Wangari Muta Maathai (born April 1, 1940 in Nyeri, Kenya) is an environmental and political activist. In 2004 she became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”


Education Maathai received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Mount St. Scholastica (now Benedictine College) in 1964, and her Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, before returning to Nairobi, where, at the University of Nairobi , she earned the first Ph.D. awarded to an Eastern African woman (in veterinary medicine). In 1971, she became professor for veterinary anatomy at the University of Nairobi, and then later dean of her faculty. In 2002 Maathai accepted a position as Visiting Fellow at Yale University’s Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry .


Activism and political life


Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement - a grass-roots environmental lobby - in 1977, which planted 12 million trees across the country to prevent soil erosion. She came to be affectionately called “Tree Woman". Since then, she has been increasingly active on both environmental and women’s issues.


Maathai was also the former chairperson of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake (the National Council of Women of Kenya). In the 1980s her husband divorced her, saying she was too strong-minded for a woman, and that he was unable to control her. The judge in the divorce case agreed with the husband.


In 1997, in Kenya’s second multi-party elections marred by ethnic violence, she ran for president of Kenya, but her party withdrew her candidacy. Under the regime of President Daniel Arap Moi, she was imprisoned several times and violently attacked for demanding multi-party elections and an end to corruption and tribal politics. Almost single-handedly she saved Nairobi’s Uhuru Park in 1989 by stopping the construction of a giant 60-storey Kenya Times Media Trust business complex by Moi’s business associates. Maathai was elected to parliament in 2002 when Mwai Kibaki defeated Uhuru Kenyatta. She has been Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife since 2003. She founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya in 2003.


Nobel Peace Prize


“Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement announcing her as the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. “Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression - nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.”




Maathai caused a stir among media commentators when, at a press conference following the announcement of the Nobel award, she spoke out in favor of the claim that the HIV virus was the product of bio-engineering, and then released in Africa by unidentified Western scientists as a weapon of mass destruction to “punish Blacks". The claim is supported by only a small minority, and is one of many AIDS conspiracy theories. She has since backed away from a definitive position, saying ‘"I do not know anything about the origin…. I hope one day we shall know, because that of course is something we all want to know, is where the disease comes from.” See also Controversy links below.




1984: Right Livelihood Award (a.k.a. “Alternative Nobel Prize")
1991: Goldman Environmental Prize
1991: Africa Prize
1993: Edingburg Medal (for “Outstanding contribution to Humanity through Science")
2004: Petra Kelly Prize
2004: Sophie Prize.
2004: Nobel Peace Prize




Wangari Maathai, The Greenbelt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience, Lantern Books, 2003. ISBN 159056040X
Wangari Maathai, The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women, and the Environment, Lantern books, 2002. ISBN 1590560027
Wangari Maathai, Bottom is Heavy Too: Edinburgh Medal Lecture, Edinburgh UP, 1994. ISBN 0748605185