Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement, during a visit to The Nature Conservancy's Worldwide Office in Arlington, Virginia. Image © Mark Godfrey/TNC.

Wangari Maathai: Champion for Africa, Conservation and the World

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a good friend of conservation and a true champion of Africa, Wangari Maathai.

Through my work for The Nature Conservancy, I have had the good fortune to meet many heroes of the conservation world. Few have made such a profound impression on me as Professor Maathai.

Professor Maathai will be remembered as a woman of many firsts. She was the first woman in east Africa to earn a Ph. D. In 2004, she won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman and the first environmental activist to do so.

And of course she will be remembered as a champion for many causes—the environment, women’s rights, sustainable development, peace.

But her real legacy, in my view, was that she saw these issues as intertwined.

Professor Maathai was instrumental in promoting the concept of protecting nature not just for nature’s sake, but for people’s sake as well. As founder of the Green Belt Movement, Professor Maathai helped Kenyan women realize their potential as environmental stewards, and showed them how protecting the environment and planting trees could lead to a better future for themselves and their children. Under her leadership and guidance, the Green Belt Movement planted more than 40 million trees in Kenya. Through her life’s work, Professor Maathai helped advance the cause of women in Africa and promote a fuller understanding of the essential connection between conservation and development.

On the global stage, Professor Maathai was a strong advocate for reducing deforestation and the carbon emissions it generates and for climate adaptation, lobbying for their inclusion in the United Nations’ global climate agreements.

Through our partnership with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and our work to address global climate change, many of us at The Nature Conservancy knew Professor Maathai. She was warm, affectionate and engaging; an inspiration to so many, yet still so humble and down-to-earth. Professor Maathai was that rare visionary who, with remarkable dedication and courage, was able to make many of her aspirations become reality.

The loss of Wangari Maathai is a loss not just for the environmental community, but for the world as a whole. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I saw Professor Maathai on the Tavis Smiley show a few nights ago and didn’t know who she was exactly, as I came in on the middle of the show and could watch only a few minutes of it. I was impressed with her knowledge and her manner. I would have liked to have seen the whole interview. What she said about colonialism in Africa, that it was certainly not the sole reason for all of the continent’s troubles today, was refreshing.

  2. A true hero and visionary of her day.

  3. I am shocked to her of her passing. What happened to her?

  4. I recently watched the movie “DIRT” and Professor Maathai was the star of the commentary dislogue. She was down to earth and engaging! I didn’t know then, but I do now, I will never for get her energy and message to the people that we are stewards of this earth and we need to engage to protect it survivial one action at time. She will leave a empty whole in this movement….

  5. I graduated from Mt St Scholastica, a small women’s college run by the Benedictine nuns in Atchison, Kansas. Wangari was a classmate and we lived in a residence that had been turned into a dorm for about 12 women. It was 1964 when we left that school to go out in the world. When Wangari returned to Kenya she was perfect for those times. The need for women to step forward and lead was great. She was thrust into a life that she probably had not planned but that she willingly embraced. She will be missed and her loss leaves those who knew her to continue her work

  6. The article isn’t clear to me. Is the Professor responsible for the “Green Belt Law” adapted for property owners such as myself in TN or for her involvement with only her county (part of her world).

Add a Comment