Plant a tree, keep the peace.
For Wangari Maathai, this seemingly crazy concept is essential to understanding her exhaustive efforts for almost 30 years that earned her the title of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
“Wangari has fought for woman’s rights, human rights in Kenya,” Assistant Professor Mary Mwiandi said. Mwiandi is an ardent supporter of Maathai, often protesting with her alongside scores of other women and men in Kenya. “The key is that she thinks globally and acts locally.”
[trees] Seriously though, Wangari Maathai kicks a little ass. Her resumé has a lot of firsts on it: first woman in Kenya to receive a doctorate, first woman to become a professor at her university (majoring in biology and in anatomy) and first woman from Africa to win the Peace Prize. Her most famous effort, a group known today as the Green Belt Movement, is responsible for beginning the reforestation of Kenya and inspiring at least 30 other African countries to follow suit. In 2002, under a newly democratic (though still highly corrupt) government, Wangari Maathai became a member of the Kenyan Parliament and Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. “When they had the elections, she won by 98% of the votes. That shows you how important she has become,” Mwiandi said.
Maathai decided to fight the Kenyan government tooth-and-nail with her Green Belt Movement until the former regime was replaced — a decision which led her to be slandered, beaten unconscious and jailed for long stretches of time.
The Green Belt movement is what makes environmentalists idolize this woman; her group has replanted over 30 million trees, according to Kenya’s newspaper, The Daily National. (Fun side note: what’s the only American comic strip I could find in that paper? Would you believe Andy Capp of all things?) Her emphasis has been on educating women, who are the majority of the farmers in her country, about the planting of trees and the benefits of resource management. Food and hunger had not been major problems for Kenyans, but the need for firewood had become critical. Maathai also emphasized trees’ ability to ground good soil and prevent soil erosion.
[local] So how does this lead to peace? Well, what has caused or has been the underlying cause of just about every war? Resource management. It’s why the imperial powers-that-be were in Africa in the first place. And dare I even mention oil, folks? With carefully regulated and maintained resources, peace becomes a much more achievable goal. Wangari Maathai saw this and decided resource management was most attainable on an individual level, which was, in retrospect, an absolutely brilliant idea.
Donations to the Green Belt Movement can be made at its website: www.greenbeltmovement.org. A donation of £10 allows two women to plant 20 trees (basically multiply by two to figure out a dollar amount, and cry for our sorry economy. And don’t be surprised that the estimate is not listed in dollars – Americans are notoriously low aid donors). Also, £200 provides start-up costs for a tree nursery. Or, of course, you could start a Green Belt Movement of your own right here at MSU.
Plant a tree, keep the peace.