afrol News, 8 October - For the first time ever, an African woman and an environmentalist has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced this today at 11 am (local time), saying she was awarded for her "contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace." The Kenyan tree-planter agrees the environment is key to securing peace.
Asked why planting trees is related to the work for peace, 64-year-old Ms Maathai commented on Norwegian state TV (NRK): "As our resources become more scarce, we start fighting about them." Therefore, protecting the environment was working for peace, the Nobel laureate concluded.
- Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment, also the Nobel Committee said in its decision. Ms Maathai was said to stand "at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa."
The Kenyan woman is known as a human rights and environmental activist. She further is the first East African woman to hold a doctor degree, now being a professor. While having worked as an actionist during the last decades - also fighting the regime of ex-President Daniel arap Moi - she is now also Kenya's Deputy Environment Minister.
According to the Oslo Nobel Committee, Preofessor Maathai has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. "She thinks globally and acts locally," said Ole Danbolt Mjøs of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Wangari Maathai will be the first-ever person honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmentalist action. The Nobel Committee in 2001, at its 100th anniversary, decided to expand the definition of "peace" to include environment, culture and even media works, but this is the first time this new definition is put at use.
Ms Maathai had "stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya," Ms Mjøs added during the presentation. "Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression - nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation."
The Kenyan activist was further hailed for combining science, social commitment and active politics. "More than simply protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to secure and strengthen the very basis for ecologically sustainable development," emphasised the Nobel Committee.
She founded the Green Belt Movement where, for nearly thirty years, she has mobilised poor women to plant 30 million trees. Her methods by now have been adopted by other countries as well.
- We are all witness to how deforestation and forest loss have led to desertification in Africa and threatened many other regions of the world; in Europe too, said Mr Mjøs. "Protecting forests against desertification is a vital factor in the struggle to strengthen the living environment of our common Earth."
Through education, family planning, nutrition and the fight against corruption, the Green Belt Movement had paved the way for development at grass-root level, the Committee found. "We believe that Maathai is a strong voice speaking for the best forces in Africa to promote peace and good living conditions on that continent," said Mr Mjøs.
The Committee emphasised that Ms Maathai will be the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. "She will also be the first African from the vast area between South Africa and Egypt to be awarded the prize," Mr Mjøs admitted. "She represents an example and a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace," he concluded.
This is the second time in one year that Ms Maathai is awarded a major Norwegian prize. Former Norwegian Environment Minister Børge Brende in June this year awarded her with the Sofie Award for her gains in the fight to protect the environment. The decision to award her the Peace Prize was hearlty welcomed by the Norwegian parliament and society today.
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