Monday, May 04, 2009

lots of learning from a nobel laureate

another good book about africa, development, and the fight for better governance and democracy is Wangari Maathai's book Unbowed. she is the woman who won the 2004 nobel peace prize for her work promoting environmental conservation while simultaneously fighting for women's rights, good governance, and human rights, demonstrating that they are not mutually exclusive nor attainable in isolation.

i liked reading the story of where Maathai came from, how she became a professor, and how she found herself in the middle of a civil rights movement. i had always wondered why she had won the nobel peace prize, but after reading about her struggles and what she had to get through just to plant trees with her organisation the Green Belt Movement, i am utterly impressed that she continued to fight corrupt officials, the undemocratic system in kenya, and cultural moors that said she should not be a divorced, single mother working in academia.

as i read about the corruption rampant within ngos and the government of kenya, i totally related to this frustration and as Maathai fought to overcome the barriers to sustainable economic and social development in kenya, i felt vindicated that i had struggled with similar challenges, but saddened that there are not more Maathais who can withstand such pressures and bullying to create lasting organisations and programmes that are homegrown, grassroots, and owned by the people at whom development is always targeted.

i now know why there is a sign at freedom corner in uhuru park and why there are green belt signs in the green spaces between the roads throughout nairobi. i understand what happened to the parcelling out of land after colonialism and after moi finally stepped down from power. the book was published after the post-election violence of 2007-2008, but it does shed a lot of light on the history of the violence that erupted after the most recent irregular election. i now know a lot more about the place i called home for 2 years and i think that even people who've never visited kenya would also enjoy learning a thing or two about Maathai and her life.

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