Nobel winner laid to rest
NAIROBI – A state funeral for Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmentalist Wangari Maathai has taken place at a Kenyan national park she fought to save.
Mrs Maathai, whose Green Belt Movement planted an estimated 45 million trees in Kenya, died last month of cancer.
Thousands of mourners lined the route of the procession to the funeral in Uhuru National Park in Nairobi.
President Mwai Kibaki praised her courage, tenacity and “selfless service to the nation”.
Mrs Maathai, who died on September 25, was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004. She won the award for her campaigns to promote conservation, women’s rights and transparent government.
Because she opposed cutting down trees, her remains were placed in a bamboo-frame coffin, made of water hyacinth and papyrus reeds and draped with a Kenyan flag. After the funeral, she was cremated at a private ceremony.
“The best way we can honour her is to carry on the great work she started especially in the fields of environmental conservation, social justice, human rights and democracy,” President Kibaki told the crowd at Uhuru Park, where Mrs Maathai once campaigned to stop the construction of an office tower.
In 2008, Mrs Maathai was tear-gassed at a protest against President Kibaki’s plan to increase the number of ministers in his cabinet.
“Wangari’s legacy goes beyond Kenya – all over the world,” said Prime Minister Raila Odinga. “We have lost a dedicated selfless Kenyan patriot.”
Mrs Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. Its original aim was to plant trees so that rural women would have greater access to firewood for cooking. The trees would also protect watersheds and stabilise the soil, thus improving agriculture.
But from there, Mrs Maathai – who had a PhD in veterinary science and was also elected as a member of parliament in 2002 – went on to campaign on a greater social, economic, and environmental agenda.
She became known as the Tree Mother of Africa. (BBC)