Wangari Maathai, 1940-2011

On September 25, 2011, the world received the sad news that Wangari Maathai had passed away, “after a prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer”.

We join her family, her countrymen, and the millions she inspired in mourning her loss. Her spirit will live on in all of us.

The movement she inspired: The Greenbelt Movement.

Tributes from her fellow Nobel laureates:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 1984

Wangari Maathai understood and acted on the inextricable links between poverty, rights and environmental sustainability. One can but marvel at her foresight and the scope of her success. She was a true African heroine. Our condolences go to Professor Maathai’s family, to the people of Kenya, and to the countless women (and men) across Africa and the world to whom she was an inspiration.

From the Office of Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1993

It was with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of this exceptional environmental activist.

Her work with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and as an activist for civil and women’s rights in Kenya and beyond received worthy recognition internationally when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004. For the full statement, click here.

President José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1996

I was very saddened to hear that Wangari Maathai’s infectious laughter is no longer with us. Wangari loved the people of Africa, particularly the children, as much as she loved the land itself. As a result, we all fell in love with Africa when she spoke.

She showed the world that building peace can be done in our homes, in our villages, in our communities, and it can start with caring for the Earth we share.

We will all miss her. My prayers are with her family and loved ones. May God rest her soul.

Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2001

Wangari Maathai will be remembered as a committed champion of the environment, sustainable development, women’s rights, and democracy.

Her energy and life-long dedication to improve the lives and livelihoods of people will continue to inspire generations of young people around the world. For the full statement, click here.

Barack Obama, President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2009

It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Professor Wangari Maathai. On behalf of all Americans, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to Professor Maathai’s family and the people of Kenya at this difficult time. The world mourns with you and celebrates the extraordinary life of this remarkable woman who devoted her life to peacefully protecting what she called “our common home and future.” The work of the Green Belt Movement stands as a testament to the power of grassroots organizing, proof that one person’s simple idea—that a community should come together to plant trees—can make a difference, first in one village, then in one nation, and now across Africa. Professor Maathai’s tireless efforts earned her not only a Nobel Peace Prize and numerous prestigious awards, but the respect of millions who were inspired by her commitment to conservation, democracy, women’s empowerment, the eradication of poverty, and civic engagement. Professor Maathai further advanced these objectives through her service in the Kenyan government, the African Union, and the United Nations. As she told the world, “we must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.” Her legacy will stand as an example to all of us to persist in our pursuit of progress.

Mikhail Gorbachev, Former President, USSR, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1990

[Professor Maathai’s] leadership and work serves to enlighten us all that alleviation of poverty, sustainable development, preservation of our environment, establishment of truly democratic institutions, and peaceful resolution of conflict are all integral parts of a safe and secure global future. As the first recipient of a Nobel Peace prize for her environmental work she helped bring about a new understanding of the inter-connections between environment and peace. This is one of her very important contributions.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative: Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire

We are terribly saddened by the death of our beloved friend and sister Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai. Wangari was a true visionary whose work and life served as a powerful example to women everywhere. She showed us that the eradication of poverty, the empowerment of women, and a sustainable future for our planet are all essential building blocks of a more just and peaceful world. She lived her belief that all of us have a role to play in creating sustainable peace.

It has been a great privilege to know and work with Wangari through our joint efforts in the Nobel Women’s Initiative, launched in January 2006. Her tireless commitment to humanity was evident in everything she did—from planting trees and listening to women in refugee camps to amplifying the voices of the disempowered to leaders and decision makers around the globe.

Wangari’s fearless strength in adversity, her creative approach to building a peaceful, healthy planet and her hard work to inspire and empower women will live on. Her passion and commitment have moved countless people to take action to improve their communities. We will miss her great shining smile and her indomitable spirit but all those she has inspired will keep her vision alive through each small action we take toward a better world.