Wangari Maathai – who?

Posted: 03/10/2011 by zandtao in ONE planet, Struggle

I had never heard of Wangari Maathai – which seems a bit of an admission given my involvement with Africa and my supposed ONEness approach, until the clip on Democracy Now made me realise that my blog and therefore my approach was missing ONE planet activism. I included the clip of her because her words had changed this, but then I know little of her. The first thing I heard was that she was in the Kenyan government, and based on my experience in Africa I began thinking Mugabe. Did you ever hear Mugabe talking around the time of Zimbabwe independence? The man was inspiring. Then you get Doris Lessing’s book “African Laughter” in which I recollect the phrase “What is he doing?”. And this was before his recent oppression came to light. Working in Africa I learnt not to trust the words of politicians (well not anywhere do I trust the words of politicians), but in Africa the difference is I believe the words. African politicians usually use the rhetoric of anti-colonialism and that rhetoric is deep in my heart because of the death and destruction caused by colonialism. But in Africa that rhetoric is often just the words of duplicitous politicians. By this yardstick where does Wangari Maathai come?

So I began to read about her, and a picture becomes clear. Her position is anti-colonial, quite rightly because it matters not what Kenya does on the world stage as it is the neo-colonial powers of US-run NATO primarily that control the power. But what does she do about the corruption in Kenya? Maybe she shuts her mouth thus gaining political power. Is this hypothesis correct? A theme to investigate.

“Losing topsoil should be considered analogous to losing territory to an invading enemy. And indeed, if any country were so threatened, it would mobilize all available resources, including a heavily armed military, to protect the priceless land. Unfortunately, the loss of soil through these elements has yet to be perceived with such urgency.” from Rob Nixon

Taking this perception further what we have is the corporatocracy through cash crops causing the desertification, and as such are appropriating the land in this case of Kenya. Traditionally appropriation would be an issue of national pride eliciting a war-like response but because the leaders are puppets of the corporatocracy (as is the usual case with leaders) this doesn’t happen.

In this article Rob presents the Green Belt Movement (started by Wangari Maathai) as a utopian ONE planet movement – almost. He saw it as a movement which instead of fighting against the impact of the corporatocracy through traditional old guard mass movement techniques, positively redressed the balance by planting trees in hand with the traditional. Africans are fundamentally farmers and as farmers this act is more in tune with people of the land. That might be a romantic way of putting it but caring for the land is part of the farmers’ trade if external factors are not imposed – cash crops. Kenyans knew that capitalism through the agency of their government’s dictatorship was destroying the land of their ancestors and their actions were actions of their culture as well as actions of political struggle; this is an interpretation the writer points towards and it is a way I want to perceive it.

And in the language of ONE planet, this is GAIA. Man and land are ONE, we are not separate. Without land there is no man, it is that simple.

So is this assessment of her reasonable? Here she is speaking on Democracy Now (September 29) – download from mediafire. She refers to her movie Taking Root – watch here. I particularly liked the way in the movie that she took her struggle to the grass roots. Her women did not need diplomas to plant trees, these were women of the soil. And then there were the seminars dealing with empowerment – don’t just blame the government do something. And she did, she took on her government suffering violence to such an extent one time she was in a coma. Her nemesis was Daniel Arap Moi, and she joined the Kenyan government after he was ousted. Sadly they have also proven corrupt but by the time that was clear she was suffering the cancer that led to her death recently.

She spoke of the forests as being the lungs of the earth. I remember the school ceremony of planting trees here in Thailand, I hope that is carried out far and wide. Without lungs ONE planet cannot breathe.

Wangari Maathai, I hope what little I do meets with your approval.


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