The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004 to Wangari Maathai for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. Maathai is the first African woman to receive this prestigious award. Known both as a pioneering academic and environmental campaigner, Maathai has fought tirelessly, even against oppressive regimes, to ensure a sustainable environment and better quality of life for women and the citizens of Kenya.
In 1977, with hopes of producing sustainable wood for fuel and combating soil erosion, Maathai formed the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. Through this initiative, Maathai mobilized Kenyans, primarily women, to plant millions of trees. Over the course of thirty years, more than 30 million trees have been planted in Kenya, serving as an inspirational model for other countries, including Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In her efforts to protect the environment, Maathai was arrested several times by the government of Kenyan President Danial arap Moi. And, in 1991, Maathai was imprisoned. In 1999, Maathai suffered head injuries when attacked while planting tress in the Karura Public Forest. Maathai has been a true warrior for the environment.
"I've admired Professor Maathai for many years. Not only has she made significant contributions to Africa's environment, but she has also inspired women to be at the forefront of conservation. Her work has helped to inspire our work at AWF," said Dr. Helen Gichohi, Vice President for Program, African Wildlife Foundation.
After many political battles, including an attempt to run for President, in 2002, Maathai was elected to Parliament. She was named Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Wildlife in January 2003.
Born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940, Maathai pursued a higher education, a rarity for girls in rural Kenya. Maathai became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, earning a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas in 1964; a Master of Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi.