- Kenya's Wangari Maathai today has been subjected to all honours worthy a Peace Prize laureate in Oslo, the Norwegian capital. At the prize award ceremony in Oslo City Hall, she held her Nobel speech, dedicating the prize to Africans. Later, she was honoured in the traditional torchlight parade.
In front of the Norwegian royalties and special guests from all over the world, Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai today was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize as the first ever African woman. Again, here great achievements for the environment, human rights, gender equality and against poverty were hailed as important seeds for world peace.
In her speech, Ms Maathai took notice that she was the first African woman to receive the Prize, but that she was by far the first Africa. "I am immensely privileged to join my fellow African Peace laureates, Presidents Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Chief Albert Luthuli, the late Anwar el-Sadat and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan," she said.
- I know that African people everywhere are encouraged by this news, Ms Maathai added. "My fellow Africans, as we embrace this recognition, let us use it to intensify our commitment to our people, to reduce conflicts and poverty and thereby improve their quality of life. Let us embrace democratic governance, protect human rights and protect our environment."
Ms Maathai also emphasised that she was sharing the prize with the "countless individuals and groups across the globe" working "quietly and often without recognition to protect the environment, promote democracy, defend human rights and ensure equality between women and men." In doing so, she said, they were all "planting seeds of peace."
The Nobel laureate told her world-wide audience - millions saw her speech in live TV transmission - that in 1977, when she started the Green Belt Movement, she was "partly responding to needs identified by rural women, namely lack of firewood, clean drinking water, balanced diets, shelter and income."
- Tree planting became a natural choice to address some of the initial basic needs identified by women, Ms Maathai explained. "Also, tree planting is simple, attainable and guarantees quick, successful results within a reasonable amount time." Altogether her group has planted over 30 million trees that provide fuel, food, shelter, and income to support their children's education and household needs.
Although initially the Green Belt Movement's tree planting activities was not addressing issues of democracy and peace, Ms Maathai said that "it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya."
In her appeal, Ms Maathai called on African leaders "to expand democratic space and build fair and just societies that allow the creativity and energy of their citizens to flourish." Further, she appealed for the freedom of her fellow laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, still in Burmese house arrest. Finally, she called on Africans to discard "retrogressive traditions, like female genital mutilation."
After the ceremony at Oslo City Hall, Ms Maathai this evening was taken to the Norwegian capital's luxurious Grand Hotel in the main street, where she witnessed the traditional torchlight parade in honour of her. Thousands of Norwegians, but also a small group of Kenyans living in Oslo, paraded with torches to hail the Nobel laureate.
Tomorrow, the more spectacular Nobel Peace Prize Concert is to be held in honour of Ms Maathai. The concert, which is broadcasted live in many countries, is hosted by the US stars Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey, and includes world-famous musicians such as Andrea Bocelli, Patti Labelle, Cyndi Lauper and the Senegalese musician Baaba Maal.
Controversial views on AIDS
Ms Maathai arrived in the Norwegian capital on Wednesday and has since then had a full programme. At a press conference on Thursday, she probably had her most difficult moments so far in Oslo as she was interviewed about her controversial stands on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
As Ms Maathai was asked if she maintained her conspiracy theory on how AIDS reached Africa, the Nobel laureate declined to answer, only saying that she had been quoted wrongly by the press. Her assistants were to distribute a paper with her "official" views on the matter after the press conference.
The said paper however confirmed that Ms Maathai still believed that the AIDS epidemic was a conspiracy to exterminate the African people. Ms Maathai was widely criticised by the press for not daring to present her controversial views in direct dialogue with the media.
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