Condolences from World Leaders and Friends

The following tributes from world leaders to Professor Wangari Maathai have been received.

  • 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. 

  • Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

A globally recognized champion for human rights and women's empowerment, Professor Maathai was a pioneer in articulating the links between human rights, poverty, environmental protection and security—for which she was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Professor Maathai contributed over many decades to furthering the ideals and objectives of the United Nations.

She was known throughout the development and human rights community not just for her inspirational eloquence, but for her human warmth. Her passing is a loss for the people of Kenya and the world, in particular as we prepare for next year's crucially important Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. For the full statement, click here.

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Wangari Maathai. The world has lost a powerful force for peace, democracy and women's rights.

From early on, Dr. Maathai was a tireless advocate for the environment, for women and for all those in the developing world who are unable to realize their potential. She founded the Green Belt Movement that has planted millions of trees and helped women throughout Africa improve their lives and the futures of their families and their communities. She understood the deep connection between local and global problems, and she helped give ordinary citizens a voice. Her death has left a gaping hole among the ranks of women leaders, but she leaves behind a solid foundation for others to build upon. I was inspired by her story and proud to call her my friend.

My thoughts and prayers are with her three children, Waweru, Wanjira and Muta, and her granddaughter, Ruth Wangari.

  • Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister, United Kingdom

I am deeply saddened by the death of my remarkable friend Wangari Maathai. Throughout her career she blazed a trail for the environment, women's equality and human rights. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize seven years ago reflected a lifetime's battle against vested interests and political pressure to raise awareness of environmental responsibility and help protect our planet for future generations. For more, click here.

  • HRH The Prince of Wales

There are few people who have had such a profound impact on the future direction of humanity than Wangari Maathai. Her understanding of the link between human poverty and the quality of the natural environment undoubtedly influenced a generation of environmentalists and policymakers. It is a tribute to her passionate determination that so many people feel such a deep sense of loss at her passing.

I was fortunate enough to work closely with Wangari on a number of occasions over the years and every time I met her I was struck by both the force of her personality and the quality of her intellect. Her passion shone through in everything she did, from her work on women’s equality to her tireless championing of the rainforests. I, like so many others, will miss her more than it is possible to describe and send my most heartfelt condolences to her children and to everyone who knew her, loved her and depended upon her.

  • Mikhail Gorbachev, Founder, Green Cross International, 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.

  • Mary Robinson, Former High Commissioner for Human Rights, former President of Ireland, President of MRFCJ

The death of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, means we are all deprived; we have lost an extraordinary activist who showed the skills of leadership and great determination. But two words sum her up for me; passion and energy—traits she showed in all she did.

I am fortunate to have many wonderful memories of Wangari but I will focus on just one, a meeting we both addressed in Germany some years ago. The venue was full of young people and I watched in awe as she conveyed to them her extraordinary passion about the environment in general and the need for climate fairness and justice in particular. But then, at the end of the meeting, Wangari moved to a new level when she energised all present by leading them in a wonderful sing-a-long. Her charisma was remarkable and she literally held hundreds of young people in her hand, and I have no doubt but she was a formative influence on them.

The passing of Wangari Maathai will be an enormous loss to her family, her extended family including the Green Belt Movement, and to the world she cared so much about.

  • Al Gore, Former Vice-President, United States and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

It is with great sadness that I learned today of Wangari Maathai's passing. 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. Wangari was a warm and devoted mother and I send my condolences to her family. 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 Green Belt Movement. As the first environmentalist and first African woman to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari served as a true inspiration to us all.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Raila Odinga, Former Prime Minister of Kenya

We all knew her as a voice of reason, a lady who stood above our artificial divisions of race, tribe and region and championed the cause of humanity.

  • Mwai Kibaki, Former President of Kenya

In politics, she will be remembered for the role she played in agitating for political reforms that paved the way for the country’s second liberation. For more, click here.

  • Kenneth Marende, Former Speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly

I had an opportunity to serve with her in the 9th Parliament. She was kindhearted, helpful and committed to serving her country the best way she could. We have lost a true hero.

  • Bharrat Jagdeo, Former President of the Republic of Guyana

On my own behalf, and on behalf of the government and people of Guyana, I extend our deepest sympathies on the death of Professor Wangari Maathai.

I had the privilege of spending time with Professor Maathai on many occasions over the past few years. We frequently shared public platforms to advocate for urgent action to stabilise our planet’s climate, and for measures to protect vulnerable people from the damage caused by the destruction of the world’s priceless environment, in particular its forests.

But we also spent many quieter moments talking about injustices in the world, and the need for strong international leadership to combat them.

In all situations—whether on the public stage or away from the cameras—Wangari’s passion for justice, and her deep desire for a better, fairer world shone through. She always identified with those who are less fortunate, or those experiencing hardship, no matter where they are from—and she translated this into a forceful articulation of the need for those with power to do more.

Perhaps because she was always advocating for something better, she did not stop often enough to reflect on how she had already made the world a better place. But as she passes from this life, those of us who are left behind can see all that she achieved.

So despite their grief and pain, I hope that Wangari’s family and friends can see that her work has not ended with her passing—but that instead, Wangari’s spirit will live on in the daily acts of the tens of thousands of people who are now carrying forward her struggle to create a fairer, more sustainable world.

  • Nicolas Sarkozy, Former President of France

It is with a lot of sadness that I learnt about the death of your compatriot Madam Wangari Maathai, a former minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

In these difficult circumstances, I would like to express my sincere condolences which I kindly ask you to transmit to her family, as well as to the government and the people of Kenya.

An exceptional woman has just left us. I had a great admiration for her unwavering engagement for social justice and the protection of the environment. She will remain a source of inspiration for all those who, on the African continent and beyond, fight for the same values and the same causes.

  • Alain Juppé, France Minister of State, Minister for Foreign Affairs

It is with a great emotion and deep sadness that I have learnt about the death, yesterday, of Mrs Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Laureate.

I salute the memory of an exceptional woman, known for her strength and her noble engagements which are far reaching. An ardent defender of the environment, she linked her fight against deforestation, which began in the 1970s, to the fight for democracy and justice, to the defense of human rights and the promotion of equality between men and women.

The Greenbelt movement, which she founded in 1977 and which she lead for more than 30 years, thus combined the war against poverty, the fight against corruption, teaching as well as reforestation and the fight against desertification.

Her fight made her a pioneer: the first woman holder of a doctorate in East and Central Africa, and Assistant Minister for Environment of the Kenyan government from 2003 to 2005.

It is also this constant and untiring engagement which led to her being the first woman from Africa to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

I would like to express, in the name of France, my most sincere condolences to her family, to her relatives and to the Kenyan people. Africa has lost one of her most emblematic and captivating figures. Her powerful voice calling for a shared and harmonious environment will be missed in the whole world.

Her conviction and her fight has begun. The environment and the defence of Human rights will remain at the heart of the concerns and reflections of Kenya, of Africa and of the international community. To restate Wangari Maathai’s words “we do not have the rights to either tire or give up.” For the full statement from French Authorities, click here.

  • Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanzania

Rest in peace Dr Wangari Maathai. A great woman, an inspiration for many women across Africa, a magnificent visionary and embodiment of courage.

  • Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director

Wangari Maathai was a force of nature. 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. For the full statement, click here.

  • Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International

It is a deeply distressing and painful loss, not only to the environmental movement globally but also to the social justice movement. She was an inspiration to so many of us, far beyond the African continent.

  • The Nobel Women Peace Laureates: Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, 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.

  • Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International

Professor Maathai’s personal efforts, leadership, and practical community work in Kenya and Africa inspire us all by demonstrating the real progress that can be made in addressing environmental security and sustainable development challenges where people have the courage to make the difference. She was a true visionary whose local approach to protecting the environment has so many global applications and possibilities.

  • Akere T. Muna, Presiding Officer, Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC)

Those of us who had the privilege of working with Professor Maathai will remember her militant attitude and her total engagement on the side of Civil Society in the furtherance of many causes.

The pioneer role she played in starting off ECOSOCC has brought us where we are today. Her uncompromising stand in trying to ensure that ECOSOCC was an independent and Civil Society voice within the African Union might have not found favour with some but remains the invaluable legacy she leaves us with, to ponder and nurture.

In this moment of great sadness for her family, the Green Belt Movement, Kenya, Africa and ECOSOCC, we offer our prayers and our deepest sympathy. The footprints she has left on our continent will bear everlasting witness to posterity that a great lady, A true Pan-African and a lover of nature, walked this earth. May her soul rest in perfect peace!

  • The Norwegian Nobel Committee

It was with great sadness the message was received that Professor Wangari Mathaai had passed away. She was highly respected and admired not only for her pioneer work for environmental protection and sustainable development, but also for her work for women’s rights and democracy.

She was among the first to set the agenda for tree planting and forest protection, and among the first to see and advocate the important connection between the environment and development. Not only was she the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, but also the first to receive the prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

She will be remembered as the very friendly and humble person she was, for her intellectual strength and for her strong and genuine conviction and ability to engage people. Kenya and the international society have lost a bold and persuasive spokeswoman for the global work on sustainable development and democracy.

Her legacy will always remain with us. The deep sympathy of the Norwegian Government is hereby conveyed to professor Mathaai’s family, close friends and colleagues – and to the Kenyan people – for this significant and painful loss.

  • Joe Biden, Former Vice President of USA

I was honored to meet Professor Wangari Maathai in Nairobi just over a year ago, and like millions of others was saddened to learn today of her passing.

History will rightly record her most celebrated accomplishments, including that she was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But her contributions to her home continent-and to our shared humanity-run far deeper than accolades can reflect. From its founding in her native Kenya 34 years ago, her Green Belt Movement spread like the roots of the 40 million trees it planted, making her a world-leading advocate not just for conservation, but for democracy, the rights of women and many other important causes.

Working across disciplines and national boundaries led her to identify prescient and groundbreaking connections-for example between environmental degradation and poverty-that reoriented the work of policymakers, development experts and human rights activists, alike. When she found her government too unresponsive to the issues she championed, she ran for political office, and won.

Her tireless work on behalf of society’s least privileged meant she often ran afoul of those in power, leading to imprisonment and financial hardship. But through it all, Wangari Maathai remained, as the title of her autobiography aptly put it, “unbowed.” “We continue to be restless,” she wrote in that book, “If we really carry the burden, we are driven to action. We cannot tire or give up.” Worthy advice for those who will carry on her work.

The Green Belt Movement’s Nairobi office is graciously receiving visitors from Kenya and around the World who have come to share their condolences. Find up to date information on visitors and their tributes below.

Visitors on 30th September 2011

• Margaret Otieno – Chief Executive Officer, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya
The governing council, members and staff of Wildlife Clubs of Kenya (WCK) in the spirit of conservation, pay tribute to a great lady in honour of her care and passion for our environment and concern for the future generations. WCK vows to continue on your noble work and will embrace the objectives of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and beyond. We wish the family and Green Belt employees and fellow Kenyans strength at this time of great loss. Professor, the youth who you inspired say “Hongera for the great achievement you made, Rest in Peace.” Your legacy will live with WCK!

• Charlotte Beauvoisin – Director of Uganda Conservation Foundation
Our condolences to the late great Professor, her family and conservationists worldwide. You were – and will always remain – an immense inspiration. We only wish you are still here to help Ugandans fight to protect Mabira forest!

• Sumiko Kito – Japan Broadcasting Corp
Thank you Dr. Wangari Maathai, people of Japan will not forget you for the encouragements you gave us and many movements you have started in our country.

• Prof. Florida A. Karani – Chancellor Maseno University
We thank the Almighty God for the gift of Prof. Wangari Maathai, a principled lady who believed in what she stood for. Thank you. May the good Lord rest her soul in eternal peace.

• Dr. Isaac Maragia – Assistant Commissioner of Kenya Revenue Authority
Mama Prof. W. Maathai was truly a daughter of Africa who inspired us.

• Prof. Nathan Kahara – Chairman, Former Mayors International
Former Mayors international represented by Prof. Nathan Kahara (Chairman) and Dr. Joe Aketch (Secretary General) send our condolences and also celebrate the life of a very special leader, humanitarian and conservationist. We appeal to the government to honour Prof. Wangari Maathai by renaming Karura Forest to Wangari Maathai Forest. We again appeal to the government to outlaw twigs during demos and celebrations since millions of trees are destroyed.

• Dr. Jennifer Riria – Group Chief Executive/Director, Kenya Women Finance Trust
My dear mother, mentor, sister and friend, you fought the hard fight. You conquered, yes you did. You fought for me, for my children, for the mothers and children of the future. Your pain was the pain of this country, the battle for Africa. This will never be forgotten. You lived long enough to see the fruits of your blood that you shed for us all. You know what? You will never die. We shall tell our children that the single tree left in Mt. Kenya forest and all others, including the National Parks, were watered by your blood. Rest in Peace the DAUGHTER OF THE UNIVERSE – The true warrior. Rest in peace and know that Kenya will treasure you forever.

Visitors on 29th September 2011

• Ambassador Etinne de Poncins – Ambassador of France
As Ambassador to Kenya, I want to convey to the Green Belt Movement, all my sincere and deepest condolences on the sad occasion of the death of Professor Wangari Maathai. This condolence is on my personal behalf and on behalf of the French people. My country was a close friend of Professor Maathai. It was my tremendous privilege to meet her in that very location last month. I will forever keep a strong memory of her and of her fight for a greener and ecological planet. Green Belt Movement, Kenya and Africa have lost an extremely important person, but she will remain in our hearts.

• Amina Mohamed – Deputy Executive Director – UNEP
Your commitment, intellect, sense of humor but above all the simple and straightforward manner of relating to all of us will for me be a lesson always on modesty and humility. Your legacy of caring for others and the environment in which they lived will hopefully be emulated by all of us. May you rest in peace and always feel our love and respect.

• Dr. Achim Steiner – UNEP Executive Director
On behalf of the United Nation Environment Programme and all our staff, we pay our respect to our leader and inspiration – Wangari Maathai. We do so with deep gratitude and appreciation for the friendship she offered to so many of us over the years. UNEP’s almost 40 year long history is also one of a shared journey in which Wangari was always with us and ahead of us showing the way. Thank you!! May your soul rest in peace and your legacy live on.

• Ambassador Dr. Richard Sezibera – Secretary General – East African Community
On behalf of the East African Community, I offer condolences to Prof. Wangari Maathai’s family, friends, relatives and all activists involved in the struggle to save our planet. East Africa has lost an individual whose worth is immeasurable. I am convinced that her work will not, and should not, be in vain. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that the hole she leaves in our hearts should not be compounded by holes in the ozone layer.

• Rachel A. Arungah – Commissioner – Public Service Commission of Kenya
Vice Chairperson, Commissioners and members of the Public service commission join the family and friends of our great daughter, mother and friend in mourning her passing on when there was still too much for her to do. We mourn but celebrate you as our pearl and treasure. You accomplished so much and we are proud of you. Rest well in our Eternal Fathers Peace. Amen.

• Nancy Baraza – Deputy Chief Justice
Fare thee well. Professor, you gave a voice to the voiceless. You gave a new meaning to respect for Human dignity. You gave the likes of me, Nancy Baraza , a divorcee, a voice. Go well my dear. I will forever love you.

• Dr. Willy Mutunga – Chief Justice of Kenya
Aluta Continua Comrade Wangari Mpendwa, R.I.P

• Hon. James N. Karume - Former MP Githunguri
I was shocked when I heard about what happened to Wangari Maathai. I knew her for many years as a good person who has done a lot for this country Kenya. We shall be remembering her always. I am sure what she has done for Kenya will remain forever. It’s a big loss. May God keep her soul in eternal peace.

• Hon. Silas Muriuki Rutere – MP North Imenti Constituency under Mazingira Green Party of Kenya
You were a true inspiration to me. You helped me through your advice, material support and continued appeal to greenbelt members in my constituency, in capturing the North Imenti seat. Your fight for the protection of our forests will be left to us to soldier on. You have left a legacy for us to protect and preserve Mother Nature for the future generations. I commit myself to continue the struggle so that our forests are protected against logging and the shamba system. May the Almighty rest you in peace and keep you on his right hand on his seat of glory.

Visitors on the 28th of September 2011

• Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga
My sister – you stood tall in the name of justice for the people of Kenya. Whatever they did to you, please forgive them. Kenya will remember you forever! Rest in Peace.

• General Julius Karangi - Chief of Defence Forces
Firstly, our most sincere condolence to the family, friends and entire GBM fraternity during this time of grief. The departed Professor was the total embodiment of what most of us would like to be. To the Kenya Defense Forces, the Professor was an enduring source of inspiration as we teamed up with her and the GBM to tackle the eco challenge in not only greening our country but more importantly in solving conflicts emanating from environmental degradation and competition for the division of resources. The soldiers/warriors of this country would not have gone far like we have gone if the Prof’s shoulders were not there to stand on in their “environmental soldier program (ESP)”. And all we say now is that in remembrance of the Prof, we shall soldier on in pursuit of what she stood for. Fare thee well Heroine.

• Former Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka
Professor Wangari Maathai has been our icon nationally, regionally and internationally. I was privileged to have known and worked with her. Environmentalists everywhere are the poorer but the good lord will provide and prosper Wangari’s dreams and aspirations. Rest in eternal peace.

• Comrade Michael Majok – Ambassador of the Republic of South Sudan
Professor Wangari Maathai is the Pride of Africa and has shown that we have a credible and iconic personality on our continent and the whole world. She will remain standing as tall as Mount Kenya.

• Hon. Joseph Munyao – Party leader of Democratic Party and former minister
Prof, Kenya will miss you but the world will miss you most for your good deeds and the reasons shall ever be with the lord. God bless.

• Ambassador Joost Reintjes – Ambassador of the Netherlands
On behalf of the people of the Netherlands and all the Dutch organizations who have cooperated with Wangari Maathai, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Maathai and the Green Belt Movement. We will miss a great leader and an example in so many ways.

•Ambassador Margit Hellwig-Boette– Ambassador of Germany
On behalf of the people of Germany, I would like to convey my heartfelt condolences to the family of Wangari Maathai, to the Green Belt Movement and to all Kenyans. She also was an icon for all environmentally minded people in Germany and for all of us who fought for freedom and human rights! We will miss Mama Miti!

• Archbishop Alain Paul Charles Lebeaupin - Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya
As the representative of His Holiness in Kenya, I want to assure the family of Prof. Wangari Maathai of our prayer for her eternal rest and to thank the almighty God for the gift she has been for this country, Africa and all the World.

Visitors on the 27th of September 2011

• Dr. Ayub Macharia – Acting Director General, NEMA
We have lost a key pillar for the environment but the seeds she sowed will live forever. RIP.

• Hon. Francis Ole Kaparo – Former Speaker of Kenya National Assembly
As her House Speaker and friend, and as a person in the conservation world both fauna and flora, I am greatly shocked by the loss of Hon Wangari Maathai. We shall all miss her. May her soul rest in eternal peace.