Editors Note: Kenyan Environmentalist Wagari Maathai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, died Sept. 26.
By John Mbaria
Special to InvestigateWest
I personally knew Professor Wagari Maathai, long before the world had fully acknowledged her struggles.
I was in university when she took on the Kanu Government for attempting to put up a 60-storey private building in Uhuru Park, the biggest public park. And even though matters environment had not engulfed my inner man, I was fascinated that an ‘ordinary soul’ had dared to go against the wishes of baba na mama (euphemism for the then mighty Kanu Party). Few of us at the University of Nairobi were dedicated to any cause. Although we would find immense excitement as we ganged up to stage riots over issues we thought were important, hardly did environmental issues in general or Wangari Maathai’s causes in particular, feature in our struggles.
Our lives’ journeys were to come to a confluence when I became an environmental reporter with The EastAfrican and later a columnist with Daily Nation. This wasin the early 2000s. Around the time, the regime of the former President Daniel Moi had stubbornly refused to see the sense in sparing the last of the country’s ecosystems. At the time, the ruling party’s intransigence had become legendary. And to crown its folly, the regime came up with one devious anti-environment scheme after another. If it was not the decimation of Karura forest, it was Ngong Forest, if not Ngong, it was Mount Kenya forests, Marmanet, Sirimoni, Kaptagat, Maasai Mau and so on ad nauseum.