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For many centuries, the world has had thousands and thousands of visionary leaders most of whom have helped shape and change the political, social and economical setting of the world as well as that of their respective nations. In America, there was Martin Luther King Jr, a black political activist who fought for the rights of the then minority blacks and he had dream that one there will equal rights and justice for all blacks. This came to pass. In India there was Mahatma Ghandi who was a political activist and Mother Teresa who tirelessly fought for the rights of the poor in the society to ensure that they had access to the basic needs; food, shelter, clothing, education and better health care. The efforts of most of these leaders did not go unnoticed by the international community and most of them were awarded awards for their efforts.

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The emission of toxic gases by factories, environmental degradation and deforestation has had a negative impact in the environment and this has led to global warming. To help curb this menace, one African Woman has for many fears campaigned against this menace and worked tirelessly to ensure that more trees are being planted. Due to her efforts and sacrifice, she was rewarded with a Noble peace price in 2004. She is Professor Wangari Maathai from Kenya who is the founder of the Green Belt Movement. It is this visionary leader that this essay paper will focus on.

Professor Wangari Maathai

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) was formed in the 1977 in an effort to try and repair the damage that had been done on the Kenyan environmental scene. The aim of the movement was to mobilize the women and the youth in the society; those marginalized by the patriarchal society that Kenya is, and divert their attention on environmental issues. They would therefore earn a living through planting trees and ensuring that the trees are taken care of until they were self sufficient. The two forests that were facing total destruction at the time were Karura forest and the Mount Kenya forests.

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According to Maathai, the solutions to all the problems that face the mankind are as a result environmental degraded and land grabbing. Therefore maintaining a balance between modernity and the environment is essential if the world is to continue its existence and ensure its future (Maathai 2003 p. 73 – 75). Her struggle to ensure that the forests are preserved in Kenya did not come on a silver platter, one of the challenges that the movement went through was during the reign of the former president of Kenya; Daniel Moi. It was indeed during his time that the country underwent some devastating changes; including environmental degradation. It was indeed a dark period for Kenya. It was during this period that big chunks of land were grabbed by politicians and other influential members of the community for personal use. This is one thing that “the professor of environment” would not allow.

It is important to note that other functions of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) under the stewardship of Professor Wangari Maathai was to promote growth and preservation of forest cover, ensure that there is good governance and government participation in the project and finally fight forest land grabbers. The Nobel Committee described Maathai as an icon that should be emulated by many in the world today. Hers is a story of unselfish devotion to the society and life in general. She has managed to make a difference in a world where few manage to and where greed comes before everything else. Her influence in the world has managed to change the lives of many and the decisions of even more governments when it comes to issues environmental. The environment is our greatest resource yet it is the resource we abuse the most. All the aspects of our lives depend on “Mother Nature” as Wangari puts it and it is therefore our obligation and right to ensure that the environment is well maintained and subsequently used sustainably (Nobel Committee, 2004).

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In conclusion, Wangari Maathai is a leader and a mother and most of all a fighter when it come to issues of the environment and democracy; she has in more than one occasion stood against a tyrant that ruled the country for 24 years and during that period the country’s environment suffered a great deal. During this time, her fight for the environment was synonymous with that of democracy and she has shown the world of the relationship that exists between the two issues. All in the world are very lucky to have such an exceptional individual.

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