GBM Blog

Wangari Maathai, Our Hero

March 22, 2012 - 11:45PM
Published by Samantha Wilde

Ambassador of Finland and GBM’s Wanjira Maathai plant a tree in memory of Wangari.On Wednesday, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) with the Ministry of Forestry and WildlifeKenya Forest Service (KFS) and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) celebrated Wangari Maathai Day. Last month the African Union, in recognition of the work of the late Professor Wangari Maathai, designated the 3rd of March as Wangari Maathai Day to be observed each year with Africa Environmental Day. With sadness, on March 3rd this year, Kenyans grieved the death of a prominent figure, so out of respect GBM chose to hold Wangari Maathai Day celebrations on March 21st in conjunction with World Forestry day. It was a fitting union as Wangari is an exemplifying example of how practical action in the conservation of forests leads to “forests for community livelihoods” – this years World Forestry Day theme. 

The ceremony took place at Freedom Corner, a special place for Wangari during her lifetime. Njeri Kabeberi, the CEO of Centre for Multiparty Democracy, gave a touching keynote on her relationship with Wangari and the importance that Freedom Corner has had on her life. It was during the struggle to free the political prisoners of Moi’s regime that Wangari forever changed the course of Njeri’s life by convincing her to join the fight to free the 52 political prisoners. From then forth she left her insurance business and has been a champion for human rights in Kenya. 

With all that Njeri and Wangari have been through, it was fitting that during Wangari’s funeral at Freedom corner Njeri made sure to wear heels. Not for the vanity but for the symbolism. In the past, Freedom Corner was a place of struggle, a place where tennis shoes were the necessary attire. Now, Freedom Corner is a symbol of peace, democracy and environmental consciousness – a place where we no longer go to struggle but to rejoice

The event was marked with many poignant speeches from sharing memories of Wangari to sharing values that raise environmental consciousness. GBM Board member, Prof. Vertistine Mbaya, urged us all to keep working, working, working toward a greener, peaceful future. Nairobi Children’s Assembly and musical guest KIP represented the voice of the youth with a strong message – forests can live without us but we cannot live without forests. Henry Ndede, UNEP Kenya Country Programme Cordinator, reminded us to live like a hummingbird and do the little things that make a big difference. 

In memory of Wangari, two ceremonial trees were planted at Freedom Corner just opposite the Olea Africana Tree planted at her funeral. GBM’s Wanjira Mathai and the Ambassador of Finland, Sofie From – Emmesberger, planted one tree in recognition of the support Finland gave to GBM during the critical first years of the organization. Njeri Kabeberi and P.S. of Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife planted a tree symbolizing the new era in Kenya where civil society and the government can work together for the common good of the country. 

Wangari, we celebrate you! To paraphrase Njeri Kabeberi: How great it is to be a hero, not just of your nation but globally, to be a defender of human rights. How great it is to be a woman of power. Wangari, we are going to plant trees. We PROMISE you! 

Check out pictures from the event on our facebook page.


Many of our supporters have been calling out to us asking what is happening with the fires burning on Mount Kenya and, now, in the Aberdares. Last week, GBM advocated for the forests by contacting the Kenyan army and Kenya Forest Service and initiated the process for these two governmental bodies to work together in putting out the fire. The fires have consumed 5,000 hectares of forest cover and KSH 8 billion worth of trees but, with rains expected shortly, there is hope that the fires will be contained. 

At the Wangari Maathai Day and World Forestry Day celebrations, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) assured the country that they are taking these fires very seriously. The fires seems to be a eye opener for the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife as the Permanent Secretary announced that they have set aside KSH 200 million to purchase fire-fighting equipment for forests to enhance their capacity to combat future wildfires.

We are following the situation closely and will continue to update you via our blog, facebook and twitter.