Earth Mother Wangari Maathai Dead at 71

World Pays Tribute to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Champion for Environment and Women’s Rights

Photo courtesy of United Nations


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Obama, and other world leaders today paid tribute to Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Africa’s foremost environmental campaigners, who died on Sunday. She was 71.

“It is with great sadness that the family of Professor Wangari Maathai announces her passing away on 25th September, 2011, at the Nairobi Hospital, after a prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer. Her loved ones were with her at the time,” the Green Belt Movement announced on its website.  Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement that encouraged women in rural Kenya to plant trees to improve their livelihoods through better access to clean water, firewood for cooking and other resources. Her movement planted an estimated 45 million trees in Africa and assisted nearly 900,000 women to establish tree nurseries and plant trees to reverse the effects of deforestation, according to the United Nations tribute to her.

“Her passing is a loss for the people of Kenya and the world,” Ban Ki-moon said in a statement published on the UN website. Maathai was a “globally recognized champion for human rights and women’s empowerment” and a “pioneer in articulating the links between human rights, poverty, environmental protection and security,” he added.

“She was a visionary who saw over the tree canopy, but never lost sight of the roots.”

“She was a visionary who saw over the tree canopy, but never lost sight of the roots,” said Jan McAlpine, Director of the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests, adding that Maathai was a great woman and a wonderful leader who made a difference both in Kenya and around the world, one tree at a time.

“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a news release. “While others deployed their power and life force to damage, degrade and extract short term profit from the environment, she used hers to stand in their way, mobilize communities and to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction.

“She was, like the acacias and the Prunus Africana trees Wangari fought so nobly and assiduously to conserve, strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions,” he added.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004 to Maathai for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

“Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally,” the Committee said when it announced its decision to award her the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Maathai combines science, social commitment and active politics. More than simply protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to secure and strengthen the very basis for ecologically sustainable development,” the Committee added.

Related Blog Post: Wangari Muta Maathai: A Life of Firsts

“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Professor Wangari Maathai,” Obama said in his statement today. “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 … 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 Greenbelt 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,” Obama said.

Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya: “With the passing on of Professor Maathai, the country and the world has not only lost a renowned environmentalist and but also a great human rights crusader. Indeed in 2004, the late Professor was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her contribution in environmental conservation, good governance, human rights and democracy.

“As part of her environmental conservation efforts, the late Professor Maathai started the Green Belt Movement, an NGO that is involved in reforestation programmes throughout the country.

“Professor Maathai was also a hardworking person who always had time for the less privileged in the country. In this regard, the late Nobel Laureate was at the forefront in advocating for women empowerment, especially at the grassroots level.

“In politics, the late Professor Maathai will be remembered for the role she played in agitating for political reforms that paved the way for the country’s second liberation. In her quest to serve Kenyans in different spheres, the late Professor Maathai vied and became the Member of Parliament for Tetu and an Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Although she has physically left us, her good deeds will live and continue to inspire us for many years to come.”

“Socially, the late Professor Maathai was an amiable person and those who interacted with her benefited from her wisdom and generosity.

“We take consolation that although she has physically left us, her good deeds will live and continue to inspire us for many years to come.”


(TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, video by )


Former Vice President Al Gore: “Wangari overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service—service to her children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya– and to the world as a whole … She worked tirelessly both as an elected Member of Parliament and an Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. She forged new ground for women in Kenya helping shatter what we would call the “glass ceiling” in the United States. And, she found her true passion as the founder of the Greenbelt Movement. As the first environmentalist and first African woman to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari served as a true inspiration to us all.”

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory: “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.

“We were honoured in 2005 to have had Prof Maathai, then Deputy Minister of Environment in Kenya, deliver the Third Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. (Read the Third Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Address by Professor Maathai.) “We need people who love Africa so much that they want to protect her from destructive processes,” she said in her address. ‘There are simple actions we can take. Start by planting ten trees we each need to absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale. Practise the 3R campaign (reduce, re-use, repair and re-use, which is mottainai in Japanese), get involved in local initiatives and volunteer your time for services in your community. Governments should prioritise technical schools and give people knowledge and skills for self-employment.'”

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.

National Geographic Magazine: Listen to Wangari Maathai talk about her journey to environmental awareness, her hopes for Kenya, and the good that can come from empowering the people.

National Geographic News Watch: Establishing Roots: An Interview with Wangari Maathai

National Geographic News: Kenyan’s Painful Path to Nobel Peace Prize

Casaubon’s Book (ScienceBlogs): Remembering Wangari Maathai

Turnstyle News: A Young Environmentalist’s Encounter with Wangari Maathai

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • […] Tutu praised Maathai as a true …Tributes pour in for "Tree Mother of Africa"CBS NewsEarth Mother Wangari Maathai, Dead at 71National GeographicWangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71New York TimesVoice of […]

  • john kamau

    A true heroine-at the time wangari mathai was announce the nobel prize winner she was in the forest planting trees and the president had to send for police chopper to take her at the state house and the presindent gave her the news.may her soul RIP

  • […] African heroine'CNNWangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71New York TimesNational Geographic -Voice of America -Telegraph.co.ukall 891 news […]

  • Masawe Fratern

    May Africa plant a billion trees in her honour, starting from her grave site. RIP.

  • faisal

    We will surely miss u mum and your generousity and hardwork will be missed much more. Hope they name the Thika super highway after you. R. I. P

  • Badar Musa

    Mama Wangari Maathai, you have left a great vacuum greater than the Great Rift Valley that could not be filled. Others will try to follow in your foot steps, but can never do that which you have done. This is a great lost to the entire world. May your gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

  • Dr.A.Jagadeesh

    Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s contributions to Clean Environment will be remembered for a long time. A great Personality.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  • ken munene

    We have truly lost a great hero.R.I.P mother.I hope the govt names a place after her.we dont want to forget her forever

  • Herman Ndegwa

    You’ve truely accomplished your mission on earth and wherever you will go, your goodness shall follow you.
    May the people who tortured while you were with us repent considering they are beneficiariesof your works.


    I met Prof. Wangari Maathai in 2001, immediately after leaving High School at The Stanley’s Hotel Nairobi during International Human Rights Day. I admired her character, vision for the world and her zeal to expand democratic space in Kenya. Hidden in her disarming smile, is a strong, courageous with a heart for humanity. Her vision and prospects of a happy and beautiful world shall forever remain in our hearts. I just hope the Government can at-least honour this great woman in a more befitting manner. may be name one of our Universities after her or the new Thika Super Highway be named after her.

  • polycarp

    mom u did u work u fought the fight and u kept the faith may the ALMIGHTY GOD keep ur spirits.

  • NGUIMEYA Viviane

    RIP Mother of peace
    We will miss you .
    Les arbres sont tristes en ce jour mais se tiendront éternellement debout pour te vénérer et saluer ta mémoire .

    In peace, from Douala/ Cameroon, Viviane.

  • Mare

    Her spirit filled the whole planet. Her inspiration reached people she never met. Her courage was amazing. I mourn her loss.

  • […] pay glowing tribute to MaathaiCapital FM KenyaForbes -Kenya Broadcasting Corporation -National Geographicall 1,091 news […]

  • Denis Marangu

    We will miss our mother. She was an inspiration to many.
    Many more trees shall be planted in her name.

  • Tracy Durso

    One person can empower, inspire and uplift multitudes! The planting of trees/ forests are a noble action that we can do – as shown by her life mission. As Prof. Wangari Muta Maathai stated, “Plant at least 10 trees” (per person).
    “Be the change you want to see in the world!” (Ghandhi). She was the person whom lived and breathed the truth as stated above. She made positive change and was fearless w/ her bold courage and was a nurturing mother to ALL Life (people, animals, the Earth. etc…). Much gratitude to her,and the Greenbelt Movement and her lasting legacy. “Prevail, People!” is her message to us.Her legacy is LOVE, Peace and Justice, and Equality for all beings! Now she can rest in loving serenity forever.

  • Wangari Muthigani

    Prof. Maathai has created such precedence for all of us no matter how insignificant our little bits may be reference to – “I AM A HUMMINGBIRD” they are contributions nonetheless and collectively, make a difference. I have never felt more in sync with a public figure to the point of actual grief for her passing. This has propelled me as an individual having hailed frm her very village to contibutory to my community in my own little way in my own calling. Prof Wangari has been so bold and vocal to susatinable environmental development,democracy and the rights of women and humanity thereof. Gone too soon but not without your mark. You are greatly entrnched in our hearts. I concur, a public space ought to be named after her such as a University, A highway perhaps even a park. She must be added into our Historical Curriculum for the future generations to study and know all abt her bloodshed for the environment. R.I.P mama miti na mazingira

  • kristine kambua

    R.I.P mom may almighty God grant u enternal life as u worked 4 kenyans.

  • Geralyn Spollett

    To have had the courage to act for the benefit of the Kenyan people and to encourage then to believe in themselves and then to find the solutions to their problems is a powerful message. I grieve today for a women I never knew but I feel the pain of knowing the world has lost a visionary woman of great strength and goodness. WE must not forget the lessons she taught;they have meaning for all of us.


    Earth Mother,
    Beaucoup se souviendront de toi comme prix nobel de la paix, d’autres aussi comme enseignant et politique, d’autres encore comme grande activiste pour l’environnement et les droits humains. D’autres enfin, dans leur humble vie ordinaire, regarderont les arbres que tu as plantés et que tu nous laisses en héritage, et les arbres que tu auras encouragé à planter, et diront avec émotion, regret et gratitude : ce sont les arbres de Wangari.
    Repose en paix, Mère, repose en paix et dis-toi que tu vis, que tu vivras toujours, dans nos pensées et à travers chacun ces arbres.

  • Marion E Brink

    What a lady! I am saddened by her death. She was a strong and wonderful person..we need more like her on this beloved African continent !

  • Naomi Murage

    Devoted heroine that will never be forgotten for decades,role model to many, your work was great and you are irreplaceable. May our good Lord rest your soul in eternal peace.

  • John Cheburet

    RIP Mama. Your legacy lives with and within us!

  • Joseph Okeyo

    The trees which you helped plant will now forever wave their happy leaves and branches whenever your spirit blows a Kenyan windy kiss towards and on them. We, the descendants of Kenya, African, and the world thank you for your leadership. May the trees continue to protect our heads with their shades as symbol of love you so dearly held for all us universally. Rest in Eternal Peace, Mama!

  • Lucy Apiyo

    saints are made on earth by the way we live, prof Maathai is a saint witnessed in her actions of taking care of kenyans at a community level and as well as nature, fighting injustices,struggling for change and the profound hope that change is possible you are an inspiration to many and your legacy will live for generations to come. REST IN PEACE

  • Ahmed

    She was an examplery for all women in Africa. She showed women could achieve and bring about change. Nothing is impossible in the eye of the professor.

  • stephaniejones

    wow tht was good

  • senorita doroda

    Wangari Wa Mathai was a true heroine. I learnt from her two things bravery and passion. She fought without fear about what she believed in and she was passionate about it. For more on Wangari Wa Mathai click on .

  • Audrey

    Professor Mahtai was and still is a true inspiration to me. She has forced to take a step back and look at this world through a new set of eyes. I always wanted to meet her. Rest in Peace Waangari- you led an amazing life

  • […] Tutu praised Maathai as a true …Tributes pour in for "Tree Mother of Africa"CBS NewsEarth Mother Wangari Maathai, Dead at 71National GeographicWangari Maathai, winner of Nobel Peace Prize, dies at 71Bellingham HeraldNew York […]

  • bshoals

    We love you, we bless you, and we appreciate all you have done for planet earth. RIP

  • Pradeep Chatterjee

    Rest in Peace Big MAMA.
    Thanks for you efforts you did for this world.

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