Kenyan environmentalist and zoology professor Wangari Maathai bcame the first woman from Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize Friday. We hear Wangari Maathai speaking earlier about the violence she faces in Kenya and we speak with her colleague Terry Tempest Williams. [includes rush transcript]
Today the Chair of the Nobel Prize Committee announced this year’s winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Ole Danbolt Mjoes, Chair of the Nobel Prize Committee speaking in Oslo, Norway on October 8, 2004.
Chair of the Nobel Prize Committee announcing Wangari Maathai as the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is an environmentalist and zoology professor from Kenya and the first woman from Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is 63 years old.
Wangari Maathai rose to international fame for campaigns against government-backed forest clearances in Kenya in the late 1980s and 1990s.
She once said of the forest clearances "It’s a matter of life and death for this country. The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem."
In 1992 riot police clubbed her and three other women unconscious in central Nairobi during a demonstration. She has been tear gassed, threatened with death by anonymous callers, and once thrown into jail overnight for leading protests.
- Wangari Maathai, speaking about the violence she faces in Kenya.
- Terry Tempest Williams, author, environmental activist and professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Utah. Her newest book is "The Open Space of Democracy".
AMY GOODMAN: Today the chair of the Nobel Peace Prize committee announced this year’s winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
OLE DANBOLT MJOES: The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004 to Wangari 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. Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression, nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation. 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.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was the chair of the Nobel Prize Committee, announcing Wangari Maathai as the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is an environmentalist, a zoology professor from Kenya, and the first woman from Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is 63 years old. Wangari Maathai rose to international fame for campaigns against government-backed forest clearances in Kenya in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. She once said of forest clearances, "It’s a matter of life and death for this country. The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem."
AMY GOODMAN: In 1992, riot police clubbed Wangari Maathai and three other women unconscious in central Nairobi during a demonstration. She’s been tear gassed, threatened with death by anonymous callers and once thrown in jail overnight for leading protests. We’re going to play now an excerpt of Wangari Maathai speaking about the violence she faces in Kenya.
PROF. WANGARI MAATHAI: I do know that what I do hurts some very powerful people in their own way. And because we live in a very volatile continent and, as well, a volatile country, you just never know when something may happen and you may be at the wrong place.
AMY GOODMAN: Wangari Maathai speaking about her own experience. As we turn now to the author Terry Tempest Williams, who is well known for her environmental writings and has known Wangari Maathai for many years. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Terry.
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Hello, Amy. It’s wonderful to talk to you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you here with us. Can you talk first about Wangari Maathai, how you know her, who she is?
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: I met her in 1985 at the U.N. decade for women conference and the United Nations forum for women in Nairobi. She was a passionate speaker on behalf of deforestation and at that time, that was not a household word. She literally was advocating peace for the planet through the collecting of seeds—Women gathering seeds in the soles of their skirts and planting them in the soils of their community. It was extremely moving and I can tell you personally she changed my life.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of some of the work that she has done subsequently?
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: What she has done, literally, is plant 10 million trees and she took the seedlings that were planted by the women in the villages to the schools, the elementary schools, where the children were then able to nurture hope. So, it’s been a communal process that she’s been engaged in, it has been a familial process and then she took that into the community at large.
AMY GOODMAN: Terry Tempest Williams, she is the first environmentalist to be awarded the prize, the first African woman. Your response.
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: I think this is extremely significant. Wangari Maathai was the first of the global leaders to say the health of our communities is the health of the planet. She said that environmental responsibility is social responsibility. She was one of the first global leaders decades ago to say that there is no separation between how we treat the environment and how we treat each other. I think it’s important to note, Amy and Juan, that she said so often those of us working on the margins to create this open space of justice and democracy are not those who then inhabit that space and she has always advocated that we must not only create that space, but then step inside it and I think it’s significant to note that she ran for parliament in 2002, won, and was named the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.
AMY GOODMAN: When you heard this morning, Terry Tempest Williams, that it was Wangari Maathai, how did you respond?
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: I cried. I just think this is an enormous gesture on behalf of a woman who has risked everything for the environment and who, her whole life, is a gesture of deep bows to women and children in the earth. She’s been recognized as a peacemaker, and I think redefines what peace is.