Wangari Maathai was an eminent Kenyan Noble Prize laureate and environmentalist. She spent a major half of her life fighting for environmental issues. She also became the first environmentalist and African women to receive a Noble Laureate. Besides this she was also the first African women to be awarded a doctorate degree. Maathai earned prestigious positions at ‘University Of Nairobi’ owing to her exceptional academic background and oratory skills. In 1970s she founded the ‘Green Belt Movement’ that was aimed at planting trees in order to protect the environment. As years passed the non-government organization diversified and started focusing on women’s rights as well. She also turned into a political activist towards the latter half of her life. Here is a collection of views, thoughts, beliefs and causes for which she raised her voice in form of quotable quotes. Let us browse through some popular quotes and thoughts by Wangari Maathai that hold a world of wisdom.
I have always felt that perhaps women have sometimes almost embraced the same values as men, and the same character as men, because they are in the men's world, and they are trying to fit into a system that men have created. And maybe in truth when there is a critical mass of women who play that role in governments, then we will see whether women can really manage power in a way that is less destructive than the way that men have used power.
Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don't need a diploma to plant a tree.
Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own - indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come
I want to do the right things - I want to plant trees, I want to make sure that the indigenous forests are protected because I know, whatever happens, these are the forests that contain biodiversity, these are the forests that help us retain water when it rains and keep our rivers flowing, these are the forests that many future generations will need.
I stand before you and the world humbled by this recognition and uplifted by the honour of being the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate. As the first African woman to receive this prize, I accept it on behalf of the people of Kenya and Africa, and indeed the world. I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership.
We can work together for a better world with men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind. To do so effectively, the world needs a global ethic with values which give meaning to life experiences and, more than religious institutions and dogmas, sustain the non-material dimension of humanity. Mankind's universal values of love, compassion, solidarity, caring and tolerance should form the basis for this global ethic which should permeate culture, politics, trade, religion and philosophy. It should also permeate the extended family of the United Nations.
Those of us who witness the degraded state of the environment and the suffering that comes with it cannot afford to be complacent. We continue to be restless. If we really carry the burden, we are driven to action. We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!
It is evident that many wars are fought over resources which are now becoming increasingly scarce. If we conserved our resources better, fighting over them would not then occur…so, protecting the global environment is directly related to securing peace…those of us who understand the complex concept of the environment have the burden to act. We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.
We have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species, that cannot speak for themselves today. The global challenge of climate change requires that we ask no less of our leaders, or ourselves.
An individual citizen cannot protect himself from the powers of large corporations or external governments. It is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens.
It gradually became clear that the Green Belt Movement's work with communities to repair the degraded environment could not be done effectively without participants embracing a set of core spiritual values.
You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself. That values itself. That understands itself.
The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.
The way in which we can promote peace, is by promoting sustainable management of our resources, equitable distribution of these resources, and that the only way you can actually do that, is that then you have to have a political, economic system that facilitates that. And then you get into the issues of human rights, justice, economic justice, social justice, and good governance or democratic governance. That's how it ties up.
Resources on the planet are limited, and limited resources can come to an end. But there are also a lot of resources that are renewable. A lot of land, for example, can be reclaimed from the encroaching deserts.
I'm sure that many people who are involved in an environmental effort ... they will be pretty much encouraged by this recognition.
That's the way I do things when I want to celebrate, I always plant a tree. And so I got an indigenous tree, called Nandi flame, it has this beautiful red flowers. When it is in flower it is like it is in flame.
But when you have bad governance, of course, these resources are destroyed: The forests are deforested, there is illegal logging, there is soil erosion. I got pulled deeper and deeper and saw how these issues become linked to governance, to corruption, to dictatorship.
For me, one of the major reasons to move beyond just the planting of trees was that I have tendency to look at the causes of a problem. We often preoccupy ourselves with the symptoms, whereas if we went to the root cause of the problems, we would be able to overcome the problems once and for all.
When resources are degraded, we start competing for them, whether it is at the local level in Kenya, where we had tribal clashes over land and water, or at the global level, where we are fighting over water, oil, and minerals. So one way to promote peace is to promote sustainable management and equitable distribution of resources.
It was easy to persecute me without people feeling ashamed. It was easy to vilify me and project me as a woman who was not following the tradition of a 'good African woman' and as a highly educated elitist who was trying to show innocent African women ways of doing things that were not acceptable to African men.
When I first started, it was really an innocent response to the needs of women in rural areas. When we started planting trees to meet their needs, there was nothing beyond that. I did not see all the issues that I have to come to deal with.
When you think of all the conflicts we have - whether those conflicts are local, whether they are regional or global - these conflicts are often over the management, the distribution of resources. If these resources are very valuable, if these resources are scarce, if these resources are degraded, there is going to be competition.
You cannot blame the mismanagement of the economy or the fact that we have not invested adequately in education in order to give our people the knowledge, the skills and the technology that they need in order to be able to use the resources that Africa has to gain wealth.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.
Every one of us can make a contribution. And quite often we are looking for the big things and forget that, wherever we are, we can make a contribution. Sometimes I tell myself, I may only be planting a tree here, but just imagine what's happening if there are billions of people out there doing something. Just imagine the power of what we can do.
It is very important for young people not to be afraid of engaging in areas that are not common to the youth. Get involved in local activities, get involved in local initiatives, be involved in leadership positions because you can’t learn unless you are involved. And if you make mistakes that is alright too because we all make mistakes and we learn from those mistakes. You gain confidence from learning, failing and rising again.
There is no reason why a company like Monsanto, for example, that is pushing GMOs, cannot go to Kenya, partner with the university, partner with the research institutions, and try to promote - in a responsible way - advanced techniques to help farmers. But this should be done in such a way that the farmers' livelihoods are not undermined because the government is irresponsible or careless, or because it is compromised.
Anybody can dig a hole and plant a tree. But make sure it survives. You have to nurture it, you have to water it, you have to keep at it until it becomes rooted so it can take care or itself. There are so many enemies of trees.
You have to know yourself, and that once you know yourself, then you cannot be bound by - because sometimes we are bound by other people's thoughts, because we are not sure about ourselves. But once you know yourself... I guess it is really an expression of the biblical statements that the truth will make you free! When you know, then you are free, your mind is free.
Why do we have to have people come from afar to come and grow food for us, or to grow food to sell to us? It is partly because we are almost becoming used to people doing things for us. Like somebody else is going to solve that problem for us. And that to me is very disempowering system.
Tradition sometimes excludes the girl child from inheriting; or single women may not want to be perceived as pursuing too much property. The law has come a long way in favor of the woman, but it is the tradition, the attitudes, that we often have to fight.
When I went back home, I was constantly being reminded, I'm an African woman, and so there are certain things I shouldn't do, certain ambitions that I should not entertain. That was a problem for me because I had never thought of myself as an African woman, never thought of myself as a woman to begin with. For me the limit was my capacity, my capability.
Education is a very empowering experience, so many people who went to school also managed to improve their quality of life much faster because they could get a job, they could get money. Once people see that you improve your life if you are educated, then education becomes a valuable tool and people want it.
We’re constantly being bombarded by problems that we face and sometimes we can get completely overwhelmed. [But] we should always feel like a hummingbird. I may feel insignificant, but I don’t want to be like the other animals watching the planet go down the drain. I’ll be a hummingbird, I’ll do the best I can.
For us who are now in power, we need to be challenged to serve the people and ignore our own egos and personal interests so that we can really demonstrate to other African states that it is possible to share power without going to war.
Sometimes when I talk to little children I remind them of the fact that when I was growing up myself, I used to play with frog eggs and tadpoles and I used to walk in the field, I used to literally copy whatever my mother was doing on the land. And that may be the reason why I eventually developed the passion for green and for the Earth. So it is extremely important for adults and especially those who are in charge of cities to make sure that we do not lose touch with the land and with the environment. And especially our children.
Using trees as a symbol of peace is in keeping with a widespread African tradition. For example, the elders of the Kikuyu carried a staff from the thigi tree that, when placed between two disputing sides, caused them to stop fighting and seek reconciliation. Many communities in Africa have these traditions.
We refuse to share resources; we govern irresponsibly. If we are confident, if we have some of our cultural values, then we would be more committed to assisting our people out of poverty and creating an environment that can make it possible for our friends to assist us.
The government of Qatar, as I mentioned, has proposed to come and lease Kenya's Tana River delta in order to farm there. What I am not sure of is, has an environmental impact assessment been made to ensure that exploiting this delta for agricultural activities is the best way we can use the delta?We must be concerned about the long-term impact of agricultural activities in the delta.
Today with technological advancement, with the Internet, with planes, with the rate at which we travel - even if you wanted, you cannot hide from the rest of the world. And whether you like it or not, you are part of this global marketplace, and so you might as well understand it, you might as well embrace it, because even if you hide, it will find you.
In Kenya, one of our biggest exports is coffee. Where do you grow coffee? You grow coffee in the land. To be able to grow coffee you need rain, you need special kinds of soils that are found on hillsides, and that means you have to protect that land from soil erosion so you don't lose the soil. You also want to make sure that when the rains come you're going to be able to hold that water and have it go into the ground so that the streams and the rivers keep flowing and the ground is relatively humid for these plants.
We think that diamonds are very important, gold is very important, all these minerals are very important. We call them precious minerals, but they are all forms of the soil. But that part of this mineral that is on top, like it is the skin of the earth, that is the most precious of the commons.
What is really important is to educate people how to protect themselves and how to ensure that, despite their poverty, they can get tested and access drugs. So I just hope that those who can will make those drugs available.
The essential role of the environment is still marginal in discussions about poverty. While we continue to debate these initiatives, environmental degradation, including the loss of biodiversity and topsoil, accelerates, causing development efforts to falter.
I'm sure the government of Qatar is not coming in to grow food for the people of Kenya; it's coming to grow food to sell. If it can also sell to the people of Kenya, well, then good. I think that the moves can be helpful, but I think that the history that Africa knows, as I say in my book, has been a history of exploitation.
When these resources are degraded or polluted, then there are fewer of them for the rest of us, and then we start competing for them and eventually as we compete, there are those of us, who have the capacity, who have the ability to be the controllers, to decide who accesses them, how much they access, and eventually there is a conflict. Those who feel marginalized, those who feel excluded, eventually react in an effort to get their own justice, and we have conflict.
The people are learning that you cannot leave decisions only to leaders. Local groups have to create the political will for change, rather than waiting for others to do things for them. That is where positive, and sustainable, change begins.