Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died late Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
Maathai, 71, was one of the most respected and well-known women on the continent. She won the Nobel Prize in 2004 for combining environmentalism and social activism. According to the Nobel committee, Maathai made significant contributions “to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”
The Kenyan environmentalist founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977 – planting tens of millions of trees throughout her homeland.
GBM is a non-profit grassroots non-governmental organization that provides income and sustenance to millions of people in Kenya through the planting of trees.
The Green Belt Movement did not always address the matters of democracy and peace.
However, it became evident that responsible governance of the environment could not happen without democracy Maathai said, according to AP.
"Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilized to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement," she stated.
In addition to founding GBM, Maathai was a feminist, politician, human rights advocate, and anti-corruption campaigner, among other advocacy work. Her death “strikes at the core” of Kenya’s heart said Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
“I join Kenyans and friends of Kenya in mourning the passing of this hero of our national struggles,” said Odinga according to AP. “Hers has been heroism easily recognized locally and abroad.”
Tributes have poured out for Maathai via Facebook and Twitter.
“Your roots will continue to run deep…as the trees you planted. The seeds will sprout and your life will never end! ASE!” Oceana James wrote on the “Wangari Maathai” Facebook page.
Andy Mboyano added, “Thank you for everything you have done for us and our planet. Ma your spirit continue to be seeded, germinate, grow and thrive until the earth and we and all our relations are healthy again.”
“Wangari Maathai, a ‘crazy woman’ who earned a Nobel Peace Prize as a visionary green leader, RIP,” tweeted two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof.