Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 09/26/2011

Wangari Maathai, first African woman to win Nobel peace prize, dies at 71

Kenyan environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai died after a long struggle with cancer Sunday at the age of 71, the Associated Press reports.


Wangari Maathai touches a tree stump cut by illegal loggers during a ceremony to plant trees in the Sabatia forest in 2006. (Antony Gitonga - Reuters)
The first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize, in 2004, Maathai was also elected to parliament and founded the environmental NGO the Green Belt Movement, which, over 30 years, mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees.

Maathai will be remembered for her work but also for the powerful words she often spoke about women, the poor, and the environment — three causes she championed.

The last time she met Guardian environmental editor John Vidal, she told him she was wary of traveling the world to give talks to parliaments and presidents because “My heart is in the land and women I came from.”

Below, we’ve rounded up Maathai’s other powerful quotes:

— It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.

— African women in general need to know that it's okay for them to be the way they are — to see the way they are as a strength and to be liberated from fear and from silence.

— It's a matter of life and death for this country. The Kenyan forests are facing extinction, and it is a man-made problem.

— I am working to make sure we don't only protect the environment, we also improve governance.

— We are very fond of blaming the poor for destroying the environment. But often it is the powerful, including governments, that are responsible.

— I would be on my knees looking at them and admiring them, trying to have them on my neck, until my mother would call and wonder what ... I was doing in the river.

“Rest in peace... Wangari Maathai,” Jay McLaren in Nairobi wrote on Twitter Monday. “No wonder the sun is not shining today — Nairobi skies all cloudy. We are all in mourning.”

By  |  10:50 AM ET, 09/26/2011

Tags:  World, Africa, Kenya, Wangari Maathai, environment, women

 
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