Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and political activist was one of two individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for environmental and climate related issues. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004,”her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”becoming the first African woman to receive the award.

She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in response to the devastating deforestation of Kenya’s forest cover, now 2.9% of what it once was. Wangari remembered water cascading down from Kenya’s forests before the trees were cut down near her home, and that these trees preserved water. In the 1970s and 80s, she also “discovered that corrupt government agents were responsible for much of the deforestation by illegally selling off land and trees to well-connected developers.” She introduced a grassroots movement that hired the poor to plant seedlings to improve the environment, creating jobs and income while restoring the environment.

The Green Belt Movement was responsible for planting more than 30 million trees in Kenya alone. Through Wangari’s efforts women across Africa have planted tens of millions more, helping to stop the deforestation that has stripped much of the continent.

On September 25, 2011, we lost Wangari to ovarian cancer.

On June 16 2006, Wangari spoke to a summit of Nobel Peace Prize laureates inGwangju, South Korea , on the subject of Sustained Development, Democracy, and Peace in Africa. Link to full speech is available below.

“When we manage our resources sustainably and practice good governance we deliberately and consciously promote cultures of peace, which include the willingness to dialogue and make genuine efforts for healing and reconciliation, especially where there has been misunderstanding, lost of trust, and even conflict. Whenever we fail to nurture these three themes, conflict becomes inevitable.

“I come from a continent that has known many conflicts for a long time. Many of them are glaringly due to bad governance, unwillingness to share resources more equitably, selfishness, and a failure to promote cultures of peace. Leaders fail to care enough for the ordinary citizens and preoccupy themselves with matters that concern them and let their people down.

“As I speak we continue to have problems in the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and many other corners of the African continent. All of the conflicts can be traced to failure in governance, responsible and accountable management of resources, and the failure to cultivate cultures of peace, especially engaging in dialogue and reconciliation.

“Indeed all over the world, this is often the root cause of conflicts. Inequities, both national and international, are largely responsible for poverty and all its manifestations. There is hardly any conflict in the world that is an exception. Below the thin layer of racial and ethnic chauvinism, religion, and politics, the real reason for many conflicts is the struggle for the access and control of the limited resources on our planet.

“…One of the difficult issues we face in sustainable development is consumerism, especially in the rich industrialised countries. In this case technological advancement can assist with the campaign to reduce, reuse, and recycle resources (the 3Rs). Recently while visiting Japan, I learned of the wonderful concept of mottainai, which not only calls for the practicing of the 3Rs, but also teaches us to be grateful, to not waste, and to be appreciative. This old Buddhist teaching is in complete agreement with the concept of sustainability.

…As we planted a tree today at the memorial grounds for the victims of the May 18 Democratic Uprising in 1980, I was very aware of the importance of that symbolism. For trees are symbols of peace and hope. We know that the people of the Korean peninsular have hope. May Peace Prevail.

Thank you.

read speech in full