As I write this, the rate of deforestation in Kenya is happening at a very fast rate on all our water towers. Yes, the country may have accomplished some reforestation and afforestation goals but the rate of cutting down trees as old as 56 years in the name of planted forests (so it’s okay) is on the rise. Permanent Rivers are drying up. This is not because of the recent effects of climate change, but because of lack of forest cover which act as a sponge in releasing water gradually which in turn will lead to the said climate change effects. Surprisingly, those who have the mandate to guide the forest and adhere to laws meant to protect it have been involved in greedy actions that are only destroying our forest cover every day.
Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed starts us off with a glimpse of how life was for her in rural Kenya when nature was untouched. This was before the colonial era came and changed the land in ways that have caused more harm than good. Even in changing people’s behaviour regarding the environment. The memoir indicates her hunger for education at a time when education for girls was shunned. She was among the first generation of young professionals who came back after studying overseas to help Kenya develop following independence in 1963. Even from a young age, Wangari was very observant of her surroundings and her imaginations always untamed.
As you walk with Wangari through her book, you will get to learn when her tree-planting bug occurred. Being an educated person, she was ridiculed by politicians and others for getting her hands dirty and joining rural women to plant trees. By this time, she had been involved in many organisations and listened to what the women had to say about the changing environment and how it had begun to change their lifestyles.
When we face the hardest battles of life this is when we know who we really are and what we are willing to die for. “Any person who has achieved anything has been knocked down many times.” Unbowed shares both Wangari’s personal life journey and well known political battles she faced with the government. From her fight to stop a $200 million skyscraper and business complex in the middle of Uhuru Park, to fighting for the release of sons who had been jailed and tortured by the government. In her political career, Wangari vied for presidency in 1997. Although she lost, she points out that her race for presidency was not well taken because another woman, Charity Ngilu was also in the race. She went on to become a parliamentarian for her home region of Tetu. In 2003, she was appointed an assistant minister of environment and natural resources by President Mwai Kibaki, who succeeded Moi.
Wangari was ridiculed by both men and women for her efforts. She was called names, arrested and beaten facing injuries leading to hospitalization. All in all, her efforts did not go unrecognised as she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Even those who spoke ill about her acknowledged her as Kenya’s own.
Many of what she did may not be recognised by the youth today. Most know her for her tree planting initiative. Few know her political struggles for peace, democracy, reducing poverty and saving public land from private use. Other than been an environmentalist, she was a human rights activists. Yes, she did concentrate her tree planting efforts in several areas in Kenya and left other forests to be managed by the locals. But she did start a movement and a drive for people to protect what is rightfully theirs. She recognised that the future generation would haunt her and others for what she did not do. Unbowed offers insights into Kenya’s History. A history that is now forgotten, or maybe we choose to forget where we have come from as a nation.
Every Kenyan should read Unbowed and even re-read it. Read it to your children. Maybe it should be a text book read in literature. The memoir is starightfoward for anyone to easily understand.
“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.” _ Wangari Maathai