The BirdLife International Africa Partnership Secretariat joins all Kenyans and the world in mourning the demise of Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, founder of the Green Belt Movement and patron of the Billion Tree Campaign, who passed away in Nairobi on 25th September 2011.
Professor Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 and in the past three decades, the movement has grown into a dramatic force for change. Along the way, nearly 900,000 rural women have worked to establish tree nurseries and plant trees to reverse the effects of deforestation. Now an international campaign, the Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees throughout Africa.
Determined, patient, persistent, and committed, Professor Wangari Maathai was an icon of hope and an inspiration to many. She was one of Africa’s foremost environmental campaigners, internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. As a result of her tireless efforts and in recognition of her lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women, the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
BirdLife International’s interaction with the late Professor Maathai dates back to 2003. As Guest of Honour, she officially launched the BirdLife International Africa Partnership Secretariat in Nairobi, in her capacity, at the time, as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources of the Government of Kenya, Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife’s Regional Director for Africa, remembers the event well: “She spoke with authority and with her usual eloquence and passion about the benefits of managing our natural resources sustainably and conserving the environment. She made us envision a greener and more eco-friendly world where everyone was responsible for the conservation of our environment.”
Once the relationship was established, Prof. Maathai continued to support and take a strong interest in BirdLife’s Africa programme spanning 23 countries, especially local community and livelihoods components. Occasionally she would also call the office to ask questions about bird identification, including about birds she had sighted in her compound.
Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson the Regional Director for BirdLife in Africa in 2003 and now the Global Director for Partnership, Capacity and Communities says: “We at BirdLife International (in Nairobi and globally) express our sincere condolences to Prof Maathai’s family and the Kenyan people during this difficult time. She has left a legacy of environmental responsibility and service. We believe that she has inspired people to ensure that this legacy lives forever and indeed us in BirdLife. May her soul rest in Eternal Peace.”