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Wangari Muta Maathai

Maathai, Wangari Muta (wän-gäˈrē mātĪˈ) [key], 1940–2011, Kenyan environmental activist; studied Mount St. Scholastica (now Benedictine) College (B.S., 1964), Univ. of Pittsburgh (M.S., 1966), Univ. of Nairobi (Ph.D., 1971). The first woman in E Africa to earn a doctorate, she taught at her Nairobi alma mater, becoming head of its veterinary anatomy department in 1977. While active (1976–87) in the National Council of Women of Kenya, she initiated (1977) the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots group that encourages ordinary Kenyan women to plant trees to counter erosion, deforestation, and other environmental ills, to provide sustainable fuel, and to empower themselves. (Tens of millions of trees have been planted.) The group also sponsors initiatives on women's rights, education, and other issues. Maathai, who strongly opposed Kenya's President Moi, also advocated the cancellation of African foreign debt. In 2002 she was elected to Kenya's national assembly and was named assistant environmental minister in 2003, but later left government. She became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

See her The Green Belt Movement (1985, rev. ed. 2003), The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women, and the Environment (2002), and Unbowed (2006).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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