Wangari Maathai is Dead – Therefore, Send Not to Know for Whom the Bell Tolls: a Personal Memory of Wangari Maathai by Mwalimu Mati

Wangari Maathai in Kiriti Kenya in 2004 copyright Micheline Pelletier - Corbis

Wangari Maathai is Dead – Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls

A Personal Memory of Wangari Maathai by Mwalimu Mati

A week ago I was asked by a friend in the United Nations system to try and find Prof. Wangari Maathai because they were unable to.  My task was to communicate to her that on October 31st 2011, the United Nations Population Fund wished to have her attend a special ceremony of seven world leaders (including heads and past heads of governments and states) to commemorate the event of the global human population crossing the 7 billion person mark.  Wangari Maathai’s office did not let on, but it is now apparent that she was not going to make that date in New York.  This morning I woke to the sad news of her passage.

This afternoon I watched an impassioned Wangari Maathai in a recorded interview with one of Kenya’s foremost interviewers Jeff Koinange on K24 TV where she urged action for conservation and indeed immediate replanting of our forests.  In particular she was demanding the reclaiming of the Mau Forests Complex and the eviction of such as Daniel Arap Moi – and his Kiptagich Tea Farm.

It reminded me that one of my formative career experiences was working, in 1989, for the Public Law Institute which represented her in her famous legal battle against the Kenya Times Media Trust – KANU – and Robert Maxwell – who planned a 60 storey skyscraper as headquarters for KANU and its then propaganda outfit the Kenya Times Media Trust.  We lost.  She was thrown out of court within a week for lack of locus standi – and I learnt from her lawyer Oki Ooko Ombaka the dictum “sometimes you win in losing”.  Wangari Maathai won.  The financiers for Arap Moi’s USD 200 million project scampered for safety as a result of the effective and embarrassing protest Wangari Maathai generated; and what was more, the World Bank, IMF and bi-lateral partners swiftly abandoned Arap Moi for his dictatorial and megalomaniacal tendencies.  For her patriotic action, Wangari Maathai was targeted for subsequent beatings, arrests and violent suppression.  Yet she ultimately prevailed.

Wangari Maathai’s protest over Uhuru Park resulted in the Freedom Park struggle for the release of political prisoners in Kenya – and she is definitely one of the most prominent Mothers of the Freedom Corner which continues to remain a free space – albeit with interference from indisciplined and ignorant opponents of freedom from time to time.  Freedom Corner galvanized political opposition parties and gained them votes.  They exploited the opportunity but didn’t take to heart the ideals of that forum.  When in December 2002, Arap Moi’s KANU was defeated, the new NARC government refused to recognize Wangari Maathai with a substantive position.  She was made an underling to Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka who was the National Organising Secretary of the KANU which tried to despoil Uhuru Park with a monument to Arap Moi’s vanity.  So it must have been a great shock to the reactionaries in 2004 when the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded Wangari Maathai with the great accolade of the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

Wangari Maathai was someone I knew from childhood.  She was a great friend and contemporary of my parents and so I will always appreciate how, as I joined the ranks of the struggle, she always treated me with collegial respect; even when I had no clue what I was doing.

Back to the Jeff Koinange interview.  What struck me was that Wangari Maathai kept repeating almost fatalistic phrases – “Nature doesn’t care – she will eventually act – when the earth warms and the seas rise where will you safe Kenyans be? ” etc… What also struck me is that she made her point even as she lost her case once again.

It was poetry and prediction wrapped into one –  Prof. Maathai – just as you might have said;

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Kenya and the World is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Kenyans have heard the bell toll – the question is, are they still asking for whom it tolls?

Aluta Continua Wangari Maathai familia na waKenya!

About Wangari Maathai and the Salvation of Uhuru Park:

Nairobi Journal; Skyscraper’s Enemy Draws a Daily Dose of Scorn

By JANE PERLEZ, Special to The New York Times
Published: December 6, 1989

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 3— On recent mornings, Prof. Wangari Maathai has postponed reading the newspapers until she arrives at the office, where she braces herself over a cup of hot tea for the daily fulminations against her.

The environmental movement she heads was labeled ”subversive,” a code word generally interpreted as meaning anti-Government. When she filed a lawsuit against the governing party, she was accused of taking President Daniel arap Moi himself to court, a sign of ultimate disrespect. She has been scoffed at in Parliament and during debate described, on the ground of her divorce years ago, as a woman who disliked men.

Professor Maathai has drawn the vilification, unusual even in the highly personalized politics of Kenya, because of her boldness in criticizing the governing party’s decision to build a 60-story skyscraper in a downtown park.

But in Kenya and indeed much of Africa, Professor Maathai herself is unusual: a high-profile, independent woman, not involved in Government (where a few women have attained distinction), who has built a popular women’s movement based on the planting of trees. ‘A Woman Who Stands Up’

And in Africa, where a recent World Bank report estimated that women are responsible for 70 percent of the staple food production but are ”the most neglected” rural people, a national movement for women by women is rare.

Professor Maathai is not alone in thinking that the scorn expressed by the members of Parliament, and indirectly by President Moi – people who oppose the skyscraper have ”insects in their head,” he said – stems in part from the fact that she is a woman.

After taking in the latest morning dose of bad news, she said: ”They can’t stand a woman who stands up. I’m being seen as an arrogant woman because I dare to object. I call them arrogant.”

What seems to be riveting Kenyans to the fight between the environmentalist – Professor Maathai is best known in Kenya as head of the Green Belt Movement – and the Government is that she keeps hitting back. Trees and Money for Women

First she sent letters to Government ministers, then filed her lawsuit, then followed up with more stiff letters, which were retorts to the parliamentary criticism of her and her cause.

”If I didn’t react to their interfering with this central park, I may as well not plant another tree,” she said. ”I cannot condone that kind of activity and call myself an environmentalist.”

A former professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Nairobi, Professor Maathai – the academic title is always used in the Kenyan press and by her associates -has been involved in the Green Belt Movement since 1977, when it was founded to plant trees for a multitude of reasons: to stop soil erosion, for use as fuel, for beautification, and as an income earner for the women who plant. The organization supports hundreds of tree nurseries that in turn issue tree seedlings for the creation of green belts on public and private lands.

For every tree that survives more than three months outside the nursery, the woman who planted it receives 50 Kenya cents (about 2.5 American cents). For many women who are subsistence farmers and have no food left over to sell, the money from tree planting is their only income, Professor Maathai said. Foes Make Divorce an Issue

”We try to make women see they can do something worthwhile,” she said. ”And we’re trying to empower people, to let them identify their mistakes, to show they can build or destroy the environment.” With the Kenyan branch having set the pace -more than 10 million indigenous trees have been planted – the movement has taken hold in more than 30 other African countries.

For her work, Professor Maathai received a United Nations Environmental Program Global 500 award for protection of the environment, a prize that was given to President Moi last year. In October, she flew to London to accept a ”Woman of the World” citation from the Princess of Wales.

Professor Maathai won a scholarship to the United States in the early 1960′s when the Kennedy Administration financed Kenyans to study at American colleges in preparation for independence. She has a master’s in biology from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate from Nairobi University.

She has been prominent in the capital for more than a decade, and not only for her environmental work. In the early 1980′s, she was the subject of a highly publicized divorce suit that her detractors chose to revive last month. Accusation of Adultery

Her husband, a Member of Parliament, publicly accused her of adultery with another Member of Parliament and sued for divorce. Professor Maathai lost the divorce case and accused the judge of being incompetent. For that, she was jailed for a night and released after she promised to apologize.

She decided to run for Parliament and resigned her chairmanship of the university department to do so. But then she found she was disqualified on a technicality from becoming a candidate.

She then decided to bolster the Green Belt Movement, which was being run under the auspices of the National Women’s council, of which she was chairman. The movement, assailed during the current parliamentary fury against her for receiving money from ”queer corners” – a reference to overseas donors – is financially supported by the African Development Foundation in Washington, Scandinavian aid organizations and the United Nations. Fears for the Movement

What worries her most is that the political attacks on her are aimed not only at discouraging her from speaking out but at weakening the Green Belt Movement. She says she believes that it is vulnerable.

”The majority of the people in the movement are poor; they are not reading the newspapers,” she said.

”They hear this second hand, that the movement is subversive. Then they are scared. They don’t want to be seen as against the Government, which can lead you into a lot of trouble. And a lot of politicians know that is the way the people feel.”

Wangari-Maathai- 1990 - outside-her house - the headquarters of the Green Belt Movement -005

The Partnership for Change Message for Madaraka Day – 46 Years Later It’s Not Yet Uhuru but Change is Coming.


Nairobi 1st June 2009

Summary: Madaraka was meant to;
- give Kenyans sovereignty over their political affairs and their resources
- give Kenyans a Bill of Rights to be enforced by an independent judiciary
- create a democratic, prosperous & just Nation where the rule of law prevails

46 years ago today, a handover took place at a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, between the British colonial government and an elected government headed by the leader of the Kenya African National Union, Jomo Kenyatta, as Prime Minister of Kenya. That day June 1st 1963 has since then been commemorated annually by Kenyans as Madaraka (Internal Self Government) Day. It is the day that Kenyans knew their independence would shortly come.

Six months later on December 12th 1963 (Jamuhuri or Republic Day), Kenya attained independent dominion status within the British Commonwealth under a constitution that was negotiated and agreed at three multi-party Constitutional Conferences held in London and Nairobi between 1961 and 1963. At the stroke of midnight all eligible persons in the country became citizens of Kenya by birthright – in the case of those born after midnight – by naturalisation or by application.

Jomo Kenyatta remained Prime Minister until December 12th 1964 when further constitutional changes declared that Kenya would henceforth be a Republic with Jomo Kenyatta as the first President of Kenya. Kenyatta was president for 15 years. The Prime Ministership was abolished, and there have only been two more Kenyan Presidents since then – in 46 years – Daniel Arap Moi who was President between 1978 and 2002 (24 years); and Mwai Kibaki who is serving his 7th year as President.

Since that first Madaraka Day, Kenyans have been trying to secure the benefits of internal self-governance, democracy and prosperity for the people of Kenya. Sadly, 46 years later, Kenyans are still suffering from the ills of a colonial like state which instead of healing, feeding, and educating and securing the people; oppresses steals and even kills often and with impunity.

Kenyans know that freedom is not free, and that they have to unite as they did before Independence for freedom. Several times in our history we have been reunited in the push for true Uhuru. Immediately after the first Madaraka Day the struggle to preserve the vision of land and freedom was led by the Kenya People’s Union against KANU, and throughout the 1960s and 1970s by patriots like Pio Gama Pinto, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki and the students and dons of Kenya’s universities. This was defeated by brute force and assassinations. In the 1980s the resistance to section 2A of the Constitution involved agitation for the end of the one party KANU dictatorship of Daniel Arap Moi. Most recently, there was the rejection of KANU in 2002, and the election of the National Rainbow Coalition which was Kenya’s first pre-election pact coalition government, and which developed an Economic Recovery and Constitutional Reform strategy and plan which was frustrated by selfish political manoeuvre. Today Kenyans are striving to overcome the political, economic and governance crisis which emerged after the botched presidential election of December 27th 2007, and this struggle is assuming a dimension of generational leadership change in the form of a “citizen’s in charge” movement.

Throughout the darkest days, Kenyans have always known that they are Kenyans and that as such they have rights which are given to them by their Constitution. They have consistently since Independence resisted against a leadership that sought to oppress them as the colonial state did. They have however suffered greatly in this resistance. Many Kenyans have been detained without trial, subjected to rigged trials, exiled, tortured and even been killed and tortured in the past 46 years.

On 12th December 2008, citizens through the Partnership for Change declared that they were going to take charge of democratising and freeing their country for themselves. The Partnership for Change has since November 2008 been implementing a six-point agenda of advocacy and public education on the National Accord, Fundamental Human Rights, the National budget and Debt, Citizens’ Responsibility and Ending Impunity. These agenda items are covered in the National Accord of February 28th 2008, which established the Grand Coalition Government led by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.


Agenda One of the National Accord:
- restoration of civil and political liberties
- cessation of violence against and between citizens

Agenda Two of the National Accord:
- resolving the post election humanitarian crisis
- reconciliation and national healing

Agenda Three of the National Accord:
- overcoming the political crisis

Agenda Four of the National Accord:
- overcoming long term issues and providing solutions to mass poverty and unemployment, land reform, regional imbalances, and equity
- addressing national cohesion and reconciliation, transparency and accountability, constitutional reform, institutional reform of Parliament, the Judiciary and the Internal Security Apparatus including the police

The Grand Coalition Government has failed to keep the timelines and to deliver the National Accord. We believe that implementing the National Accord and the agenda of the Partnership for Change will ensure the delivery of the vision of Madaraka Day and Uhuru. We have committed ourselves to use all our constitutional freedoms to advocate and educate Kenyans on our agenda for the prosperity and freedom of all citizens. In this, as people and citizens of Kenya, we shall act without waiting for the political leadership who have failed us before time and time again.

Recognizing that Madaraka Day 1963 made us citizens with inalienable rights, the Partnership for Change shall over the next 6 months up to December 12th 2009 mount a nation-wide campaign to restore the Madaraka Day vision of democratic accountability and urge Kenyans to resist dictatorial impunity. If we succeed, at a minimum the fundamental rights of every Kenyan will be respected and protected by the state and its agencies on pain of prosecution for any one regardless of status, who violates the rights of a Kenyan citizen. Our rights are not negotiable.

The Partnership for Change holds the position that the National Accord and not Vision 2030 is the country’s Blue Print for national development and ultimately salvation. On this 46th Madaraka Day, we restate that the full implementation of the National Accord is non-negotiable and the Grand Coalition Government so long as it remains incapable, or refuses, to implement the National Accord has no moral authority to remain in place, bearing in mind it is created by a political pact and not by a democratic election result. To stimulate peaceful and democratic change in Kenya, we shall support people’s struggle and initiatives for a better Kenya in the following ways:

1. We shall work to raise awareness of public resources management discipline in order to identify and secure financial and other resources for the achievement of Agenda 4 of the National Accord. In this regard we are campaigning to rationalise the budget and to achieve at least 60% of the budget is secured for development spending; and are also advocating for a comprehensive external debt relief agreement for Kenya.

2. We shall work and campaign as citizens, educating others and asserting our fundamental freedoms as detailed in Chapter V of the Constitution (Bill of Rights) and in particular calling for the unequivocal and full implementation of the full implementation of the Report of the Waki Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence and the Alston Report to the 11th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Summary and Extra Judicial Killings to end impunity in Kenya and to ensure that for the first time in Kenya’s history since Independence all public institutions and public officials are held accountable, and work to promote and defend human rights.

3. We shall work with grassroots Kenyans to educate Kenyans, organise forums that are driven by the citizens themselves- on how to full participate and consult with each other to participate in decision making, public finance, to protect and preserve democracy, ensure honest and effective representation in Parliament and the local governance structures and indeed all governance structures.

4. We shall advocate for the need for impartial application of the rule of law. Kenyans are born equal, regardless of the political opinion, ethnic origin or social status.

5. We shall develop plans and policies for institutional responses to deal with impunity including enhancing public monitoring and record keeping of the government operations related to public finance management and the as regards the fundamental human rights

6. We shall support the call by the people of Kenya for their immediate democratic re-enfranchisement and their right to an elected government.

We shall do this because the Grand Coalition Government must be pushed to deliver on its duty to Kenyans as expected in the National Accord. We shall do this because it is our right to demand for the full implementation of the National Accord. Failure to implement the National Accord constitutes grounds for a fresh election, and the Grand Coalition Government has failed in the following respects:

Failure to keep Timelines:
- It has failed to keep the timelines to deliver the promise of the National Accord. Constitutional Review within 12 months has been overlooked hence the stalled institutional reforms in the judiciary, in parliament and the representation of the people, dealing with regional imbalances and the public finance systems;
- It has failed to establish the Special Tribunal for Kenya to punish the persons bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity committed in Kenya during the Post Election Violence period (December 2007 to February 2008) during which 1,133 Kenyan were murdered and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
- It has failed in 15 months to settle the internally displaced victims of the post election violence leaving hundreds of thousands of Kenyans exposed to untold suffering daily, indefinitely.

Failure to Protect Kenyans and End Extra Judicial Killings
- It has failed to demobilise militias, and dismantle organised crime syndicates and gangs, which continue to murder, extort and maim with impunity.
- Extrajudicial killings by the Kenya Police continue and no one is being punished for this illegality which has lead to the deaths of hundreds of Kenyan young men and women. Torture of persons in official custody remains a practice within the police and other disciplined forces, and torturers have impunity. Police reforms are still pending and on June 2, 2009 the UN special Rapporteur on Enforced disappearances shall present a damning report on Kenya. Shockingly during the Madaraka day celebrations, neither the President nor the Prime Minister had anything to say on this – in prominent attendance at the celebration was the Police Commissioner who has several times been indicted by independent and official reports. The Attorney general who has been described by the UN Special Rapporteur as the embodiment of impunity remains in office after 19 years, and presumably for life.

Failure to Secure Protection of Law and Access to Justice
- There have been no efforts to improve access to justice for the majority of the population. Whereas over the past 15 months the Grand Coalition Government increased the administrative districts to over 209; it has failed to provide the people with courts and today there are only 58 High Court Judges, and 287 Magistrates for a population of 38 million citizens. The backlog of cases according to the Ministry of Justice stands at over 800,000! 46 years after independence, Kenyans are denied justice as a majority face criminal charges without any legal aid or assistance by qualified lawyers.
- Prisons were built to hold 16,000 inmates at a time. Today they hold over 64,000 convicts and every day about 45,000 Kenyan citizens are held by the police in cells under inhumane and degrading conditions.

Failure to Address Long Term Issues
- The Grand Coalition Government has failed to tackle poverty and inequality. It has failed to deliver on its promise to generate 740,000 new jobs each year from 2008 to keep up with youth unemployment which is now a national security threat. Training colleges have been shut down for lack of funds while the Grand Coalition Government continues to increase recurrent expenditure on hospitality and conspicuous consumption.
- The Grand Coalition Government has failed to consolidate national cohesion. It has failed to criminalise hate speech by law and in fact it has allowed politicians and public officers to verbally abuse and scandalize those who point out its faults. The Kiambaa victims’ mass funeral which was avoided by the national and local leadership of the Orange Democratic Movement, and shoddily managed by State House shows how far the nation is from national healing.
- The Grand Coalition Government has failed to institute the much desired and needed land reform and is engaged in a sham discussion to shield its members’ vested interest in the status quo where formally public lands remain in private hands illegally; a fact extensively documented by among others the Ndung’u Land commission report of 2004.
- The Grand Coalition Government is incapable of fighting corruption and has indeed institutionalized impunity for gross economic crimes by shielding perpetrators from persecution and by incorporating perpetrators of corruption in its highest political and public offices. Today, more than half of the cabinet ministers of the GCG are implicated in Grand corruption charges and are yet to be cleared. A corrupt government can not deliver Agenda 4 of the National Accord.

Failure to control Public Debt:
- The Grand Coalition Government has committed 24% of national Budget to debt redemption and is increasing our domestic debt from Kshs. 670.8 billion to Kshs. 827.4 billion and since 1963 Kenya has borrowed over Kshs. 1 trillion with little to show for it. It is now imperative that we have full accountability and transparency in our debt. The Partnership for Change shall demand that Kenyans are told whom we owe and for what purpose we owe. We shall campaign that we as a country should undertake no further debts until the government of Kenya accounts to the people through Parliament. A quick look at our statement of external debt reveals huge borrowings and repayment to the tune of over a trillion shillings for development infrastructure that has never been built. Most of the loans did not have proper parliamentary authority and went to private hands leaving Kenyan tax payer to pay for value un-received. Disturbingly, the Grand Coalition Government has made it its policy to borrow to fund its recurrent expenditure.
- The Partnership for Change takes exception with the Bretton Woods institutions which choose to ignore the public evidence that the Kenyan Government is neither transparent nor accountable in public finance management and that there are odious debts on our books. Even though the Partnership for Change alerted the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund as to the presence of odious debt our books, and the history of pathetic management of public resources by Treasury, the International Monetary Fund’s immediate response to this call was to lend the Government of Kenya twice the amount it wished to borrow.

The Partnership for Change shall play Its role in offering information, organising the people and providing the tools for holding public officials and state institutions accountable so that by December 12, 2009, Kenyan citizens shall have made a breakthrough.

Partnership for Change
Nairobi 1st June 2009