Wangari Maathai

Oct 23rd, 2012 | By | Category: Updates

If you want to find out more about the present state of humanity’s ancient birthplace, I highly recommend Wangari Maathai’s enlightening and inspiring book, “The Challenge for Africa”.

We just passed the first anniversary of the death on September 25th of Wangari Maathai. This amazing woman from Kenya won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her environmental and human rights activism. She died too young from ovarian cancer at 71 but not before setting a stellar example of bravery and action. She deserves to be saluted.

However, I will remember her for even more. Her book, The Challenge for Africa, was a revelation to me. Having travelled in Africa as a young person and having worked with Okaseni Village in Tanzania since 2007, I am as you can imagine always interested in books on Africa. Many recent ones have not appealed to me as they offer an overly academic and/or a limited Western perspective. What responsibilities does the West have, given the tragedies of the colonial past? Should the West continue to help? Should it immediately sever all aid completely?

But Maathai’s book is from an African perspective, and her voice is authentic and sincere. Not only that, but her book is like a mini-encyclopedia of the continent. She takes on every angle: historical, economic, environmental, political, sociological, psychological. It’s breathtaking. If you are interested in finding out more about Africa, get your hands on this book. It is a crash course on all things African.

Needless to say, the information is not all good news. My worst suspicions were indeed confirmed, and I found out more than I wished. But there is tremendous hope as well – and great pride and strength – on this ancient continent. I rejoiced at that. And it is always better to know the truth. Maathai is unafraid to tell it.

Even in her honesty, Maathai is unfailingly diplomatic and circumspect, tactfully suggesting strategies for improvement and progress. Yet at the same time, she scolds (gently for the most part) everyone: the West, her fellow Africans, the despotic rulers of African countries, world organizations, the farmers who work the land where she was born. As she names the many challenges facing Africa – the corruption, mismanagement, selfishness, short-sightedness – her rallying cry is always for courage, resourcefulness, hard work and hope for the future. It is a cry we all can answer.

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