Case #511
Title: Kenyan Activist Regenerates Forests and People
Summary: Planting trees is what Wangari Maathai does, and has been doing for a quarter of a century. Such a seemingly harmless and positive pastime has turned her into one of Kenya's most controversial citizens. As a member of the National Council of Women of Kenya, she rallied her colleagues into a project of replanting devastated forest areas and the Green Belt Movement was born. The movement has been responsible for planting tens of millions of trees in Kenya and around the world, working with no fewer than 6,000 women's groups to promote social transformation.

To Maathai, tree planting is a symbol of mankind's relationship with nature and our past. The Movement uses tree-planting as the centralizing theme in a program of re-education: the economic and aesthetic benefits of environmental care and sustainable techniques of land management, including the use of indigenous crops, are essential elements of Maathai's vision of healthy rural life. `I try to convince people they should see the forests as their forefathers did, and manage them on all our behalf,' she says.

Despite many challenges, Maathai he has recruited many to `her side'. She has been awarded numerous international awards and in 1997 ran for presidential election. Maathai and her Green Belt Movement have begun a huge legal education program helping villagers across the country find out how they can start a lawsuit, even with little money. By overwhelming the government with small claims, she hopes once again to effect change on a larger level.
Comments: This story illustrates the power of a single person, Wangari Maathai, to promote change on a large scale. Her own actions and the activities of the group that she founded have resulted in programs of environmental and forest regeneration, social empowerment for women, and legal education programs. She says of people not yet convinced of her principles: ?When they see us coming back day after day, year after year (to plant trees) ? when they see that a critical mass of people is behind us, it forces them to think. If they think long and hard, perhaps someday they will come over to our side. I see myself moving to new areas all the time,' she continues, ?being the peacemaker.?
Location: Kenya
Action: Environment, Agriculture, Resources
Setting: Third World
Extent of Action: National
Categories: Environment, Agriculture, Resources
Year(s): 1975
Outcome successful
Source: The Ecologist, April 01, p.24
Prepared By: sl 1/02
Rating: 1