Priestess of the Green Gospel
Author: Edith Natukunda-Togboa
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on:11/16/2004
Tam-Tams and Ululations for the Priestess of the Green Gospel
What would have changed a successful, rare, accomplished African biological and environmental scientist into what skeptics would rate as a relatively low profile preacher of the Green Belt Women s Movement? Her enigmatic smile, her sense of African style and well-groomed corporate profile could have graced many regional interview panels thin combing Africa for confident, high esteem international cadres supérieurs !!
Indeed, the experienced academic administrator and world-known researcher on environmental issues Prof. Wangari Maathai would have found a better place to preach than the penitentiary cells which she visited frequently under the Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi s regime or the streets of Nairobi where she has led women s environmental protests, using the last weapon they had to avert sinister development plans: their nakedness!!
Certainly, many of us, put in Prof. Wangari Maathai s place would have chosen in the high altar that her qualifications and professional experience seem to suggest. But such is the modesty and selflessness of the Great Priestess of the Green Gospel for harmonious coexistence and balanced environmental management, that she chose to nurture the depleted natural resources in order to empower the environmentally and economically deprived, starting with her deforested birth hills of Nyeri.
From her founding of the Women s Green Belt Movement, through her popular campaigns that thwarted many harmful land policies and development plans, to her outstanding educational and sensitization programmes that have empowered millions of women in Africa and beyond, where there was no government security force or political opposition diehards that could deter the powerful message of the Priestess of the Green Movement!! It has been a long and ugly road from the days of her numerous media images of rough clashes and injuries from the forces of law and order to the smiling warm face of the first African Woman Peace Nobel Prize Winner 2004.
When agricultural production was dwindling to its lowest in the countryside, when urban migration, like a magnet, was pulling all the men to the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi, when the feminization of poverty was at its highest, it took the bold step of Baba (sister) Wangari Maathai to say: No! This is enough! We must do something to improve our lives and she linked up with other people, making capital use of her charisma with women, and her gift of a lasting nurturing African mother s love
The University for Peace has been blessed to have linked up with Prof. Wangari Maathai through the sister programme of the Earth Charter Initiative where she is a Board member of the Earth Commission and member of its Steering Committee. Her close associate, Mirian Vilela, the Executive Director of the Earth Charter Initiative described the enigmatic environmental activist as follows: A down to earth person, bringing high level philosophical discussions to real concrete actions All inspiring with an amazing sense of humility.
In an environmental documentary produced by the Earth Council, entitled: A quiet revolution , Wangari Maathai clearly revealed her evangelist-like appeal, when she said Everyone of us can make a contribution. Very often we are thinking of big things forgetting that all of us can contribute wherever we are.
Such is the characteristic modesty of the now worldwide acclaimed environmentalist who was recently awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize!! For the people of the Great Lakes Region, we can certainly rejoice with tam-tams and loud ululations for Baba from the high plateau of Nyeri, near the second highest African Summit Mount Kenya, who has attained the befitting acknowledgement of the Great Priestess that she is, of the Great Gospel that encompasses sustainable development, democracy, justice and women s rights!!
Bio: Dr. Edith Natukunda-Togboa is Dean of African Studies and Head of Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace. Her previous post was at Makerere University in Uganda.