I remember as a kid watching TV and seeing a woman who was the head of the greenbelt movement being chased around by armed policemen. All I knew was that she was fighting to protect Karura forest and freedom corner in Nairobi from land grabbers. This woman was Wangari Maathai, the first woman in eastern Africa to receive a PhD. She would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and do all Kenyans proud.
For many Kenyans Prof. Maathai was the face of activism against environmental degradation and misuse of natural resources. Her organization, the Greenbelt Movement has planted more than 20 million trees across Africa.
According to her family Prof. Maathai died “after a long and bravely borne struggle with cancer.”
She will be forever remembered as a key part of Kenya’s Second Liberation.
For many years experts have pointed out the negative impact of international food aid. The practice of tying food aid to farm subsidies to western farmers resulted in unfair competition that drove many an African farmer out of business.
The EU intends to change this. New policy will now require the purchase of food aid in or near the needy countries.
Speaking of agriculture, we are yet to see any tangible results from Kofi Annan’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Mr. Annan seems to have been sidetracked by his peacekeeping duties as a Continental elder statesman. Perhaps the Alliance could get a less sought after individual – like Prof. Wangari Maathai, for instance – in order to increase its stature in public and highlight its importance in the quest for development on the Continent.
The long silence, dear readers, is because I actually got work to do at my internship over the last few days. That and my brief trip to Zanzibar and the rather unreliable internet we have at the office thanks to our ISP (name withheld).
But while I was away I started reading three excellent books: Wangari Maathai’s The Challenge for Africa, Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat and Jean Oi’s Rural China Takes Off. I like Maathai’s frank take on the many challenges facing the African continent. I wish she were as involved these days on advocacy issues as she was back in the day – but may be even firebrands like this one get jaded after some point. Wrong’s book is a reminder to all who want to change Africa and Africans that it takes more than idealism to do the job. I am loving it. Oi’s book is about how local governments in China managed to break the cycle of underdevelopment to engineer the economic miracle that is the Asian giant.
I have a little over a week at my internship and will soon be posting a piece on my take on the state of the civil society movement in Kenya.