Environmentalist becomes first African woman to win Nobel Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize 2004 has been awarded to Kenyan environmentalist Dr Wangari Maathai for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

Dr Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to combat deforestation and offset carbon emissions

Dr Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to combat deforestation and offset carbon emissions

A patron of Friends of the Earth International (FoE-I), Dr Maathai founded the African Green Belt Movement, which has planted millions of trees across Africa, mostly by village women, to combat deforestation and offset greenhouse gas emissions. She has also served as Kenyan Assistant Minister for the Environment since 2003.

This accolade follows closely behind her two other recent wins, the Goldman Environment Prize and the Sophie Prize, which she received "for her fearless fight for the protection of the environment, human rights and promotion of democratic governance in Kenya".

Dr Maathai is not only the first African woman to be honoured as a Laureate, but also the first African from South Africa to Egypt to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

"We are delighted that the fantastic work of Wangari Maathai, one of Africa's most distinguished environmentalists, has been recognised in this way," said FoE spokesman, Duncan McLaren. "She has made an amazing contribution to improving the environment and society, not only in Africa but worldwide."

"We hope that receiving the prize will boost her energy and effectiveness still further so that she will be even better equipped to tackle the huge environmental and human rights challenges face by Africa in the 21st century."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, also expressed her joy that Dr Maathai's holistic approach to sustainable development had been acknowledged in such a way.

"Wangari Maathai's work and the recognition she has so rightly received in the form of the Nobel Prize, sends a clear message of empowerment and support for people around the world struggling for more just, equitable and sustainable societies," she said.

Because of her efforts to protect the environment, Dr Maathai was harassed and even put in jail, but she has always used the power of non-violence and creative resistance to advocate for democracy and foil crimes against the planet.

Greenpeace said in a statement: "That's our kind of Peace Prize winner."

By Jane Kettle



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