The World Mourns the Passing of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai

NAIROBI, Kenya — Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who began a movement to reforest her country by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees and who went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, died here on Sunday. She was 71.

The cause was cancer, said her organization, the Green Belt Movement. Kenyan news outlets said that she had been treated for ovarian cancer in the past year and that she had been in a hospital for at least a week before she died.

“It is with great sadness that the Green Belt Movement announces the passing of its founder and chair, Prof Wangari Muta Maathai, after a long illness bravely borne,” the organisation said in a statement on its website.

“Prof Maathai passed away on the 26th of September 2011 in Nairobi. Her family and loved ones were with her at the time,” the statement, signed by the movement’s Executive Director Karanja Njoroge, added.

Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, played many roles — environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.

Dr. Maathai was as comfortable in the gritty streets of Nairobi’s slums or the muddy hillsides of central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. She won the Peace Prize in 2004 for what the Nobel committee called “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” It was a moment of immense pride in Kenya and across Africa.

Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.

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Quote of the Week

“The privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my original horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and in the African region in general.

You must not deal only with the symptoms. You have to get to the root causes by promoting environmental rehabilitation and empowering people to do things for themselves. What is done for the people without involving them cannot be sustained.”

Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, environmentalist, civil society and women’s rights activist, former parliamentarian and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Women in Technology: Juliana Rotich


This year ELLE honors nine women who are educating, rebuilding, doctoring, employing, and sustaining the world.

Juliana Rotich, 33

Cofounder and executive director of

The Problem:  The 2007 election violence in Kenya caused a media blackout; no one knew where it was safe to travel, where food was available, or whether banks were open.

Big Idea:  Through it all, cell phones worked. With other Kenyans, Rotich created, an interactive, open-source map that pooled user-generated data about conflict zones, texted by phone, to a central online platform. You could text: “Violent mob at such and such corner,” and the report popped up as a coded dot on the map. “The moment the map went up, we knew we were making a difference. It gave us a chance to do something positive for our country. Frankly, entering data into a site gave us a purpose.”