Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai Dies

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Wangari Maathai dies. (Getty)
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Wangari Maathai dies. (Getty)

The Root is sad to report that scholar, activist and scientist Wangari Muta Maathai has died. The first African Nobel Peace Prize winner died Sunday after losing her battle with cancer. Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, built on her idea of community-based tree planting. The international grassroots movement's main focus was poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. Through this project, Maathai assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds.


Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940. According to her official bio, she was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. Professor Maathai initially earned a degree in biological sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas, in 1964. She subsequently earned a Master of Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966.

Maathai pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, obtaining a Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the department of veterinary anatomy, and an associate professor, in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

In a tribute to the conservationist and human rights activist, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said that Maathai had understood and acted on the "inextricable link" between poverty, rights and environmental sustainability. "One can but marvel at her foresight and the scope of her success. She was a true African heroine," he said.

Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, was an eco-heroine who was a trailblazer in the environmentalism movement. Her ability to successfully connect women's-rights issues with initiatives that would end poverty while sustaining the Earth are groundbreaking. The world has lost someone whose approach to peace and social justice — which connected science, nature and people — showed that real change is possible when one thinks outside the box, having learned the contents of that box. Maathai was 71.

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