Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wangari Mathaai's Unbowed:A Pedestrian Book Review

I am reading a May 2009 copy of TIME magazine and Liberian President,Sirleaf Johnson, in her 'Ten Questions' TIME interview mentions Kenyan activist,Wangari Maathai as one of her role models. And she is in good company.The first elected female president in Africa also mentions Julius Nyerere(former Tanzanian president)and Nelson Mandela among her other role models.
When Wangari Maathai was awared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, many were taken by suprise. Many know Wangari as an environmental activist, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya which as has chapter around the globe.
Reading a copy of Unbowed, Wangari Maathai 's memoir convinces any doubter that she deserved the Nobel prize.
Wangari Mathaai was one of former Kenyan president- Arap Moi's solitary opponents. And this is a shocker given that we know Wangari mostly as a green- crusader.
In a country where there was only one official political party-KANU, Wangari and colleagues provided the only opposition that Kenya knew. Its a miracle that she survived death which many of her peers were not so lucky to survive. Her methods like those of Martin Luther King and Mahtama Gandhi were decidely non-violent.
The book though is a remarkable testimony to the birth of an environmental advocacy group operating in a tyranical state in Africa. It took enormous personal sacrifice and sheer guts to beat the odds in keeping the green belt movement's candle burning in Moi's Kenya. The police, the judiciary and even the academia in Kenya all at different times proved to be road blocks in the way of Wangari Mathaai. In fear of the Moi government, they frustrated the efforts of Wangari and her environmental cause as appeasement to the Moi regime which understood Wangari as a threat to the regime in Kenya even when all she did was just to get women to plant trees! Of course it was alot more complicated than that. Wangari was treated as an opponent for many reasons, including, her external support from the west and her clout among women in Kenya and also because of partriachial perceptions that as an 'african woman' she had claimed more than her fair share of public affairs and belonged to the domestic realm.
The books begins off beautifully with a nostalgic tale of life in rural kenya during British colonial rule through Wangari's teenage eyes and takes us on a journey to colonial Nakuru,Nairobi and then the United States back to Nairobi and then to Germany and then back to Nairobi again-the story of her incredibly remarkable life. Wangari' s tale is seemingly larger-than-life. Her stuborn, fearless and selfless will amidst trials and tribulations seems beyond mere mortals.
Unbowed is also a story of one woman's effort to save the environment in Kenya and an african woman's treatise on the perils of environmental mismanagement and in the words of Mahtama Gandhi, being the change that she wanted in her world.

No comments: