Sunday, 4 December 2011

Caravan Brief - 71 Candles Lit In Honor of Prof Wangari Maathai

Prof Wangari Maathai. Photo courtesy of
A friend of mine said the other day of the Prof Wangari Maathai night that was planned for Kwa Zulu Natal, ‘Wangari Maathai belonged to all of us. This is because to all of us she meant something different to all of us.’
Last night over 500 people gathering from different nationalities gathered to commemorate the life and times of Prof Wangari Maathai. As 71 candles were lit several people gave testimonies of who Prof Maathai was to them. 

Professor Karanja, CEO of the Green Belt Movement was the master of ceremony. During a light moment he said that Prof Maathai was most beautiful at her angriest especially because how she went all out to make sure that things worked. 

Josephine camel, who is the chair of African women caucus  said that on behalf of women of Africa, Prof Maathai left a legacy for all of them. Adding that, ‘If Wangari Maathai was here she would have told the negotiators to consider gender at all levels of decision making , give them access to land and information.’
Gordon Brown former UK Prime Minister said via video that Prof Maathai had blazed the trail for women’s rights and a green environment. Saying of her, ‘ A great woman is gone but her ideals live on.’ Al Gore on the other hand said Prof Wangari combined both grace and courage and vision and persistence, wisdom and empathy.’ Former United States Bill Clinton paid tribute to her tireless advocacy work in human rights.  
Among several other awards that Prof Maathai received one of those was the Chairman’s award of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This is a recipient a civil rights organization for ethnic minorities in the United States.
Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International and who is also a human rights activist  gave a passionate tribute. In it he pointed out that Prof Wangari Maathai didn’t see Africa as a poor continent. Adding that we were, ‘ richest below the ground and the poorest above the ground because people fought for these riches.’ He said that Prof Maathai had a concern that there were too few black faces when green faces met. This, he said, meant that there needed to be more people from the African continent who sat at decision tables during climate change meetings.

As the evening wore on, two of Prof Maathai’s favorite songs were sang. They were the South African anthem and the nursery school rhyme, ‘this little light of mine,l am gonna let it shine.’ Just before the official closing Wanjira Maathai, Prof Maathai’s daughter spoke to the meeting where she registered her heartfelt thanks to all that attended. She went on to say that the Wangari Maathai institute that will be based in Kenya is one that will embrace innovation through experiential learning. ‘ A lot of challenges that we face as a society are not single solution problems instead they are messy complex  problems that require new thinking,’ Wanjira noted. That, she said, is exactly what the institute will be doing.

Mithika Mwenda, continental coordinator of PACJA who also attended the meeting began by challenging all that were present to think about the legacy they were leaving behind. He pointed out that the caravan of hope was about telling the African story which ‘tonight was all about.’ He said that the COP17 talks were entering their second week after unsuccessful first week. This only meant, ‘ they were not sure how much money would be delivered for adaptation.’

As the evening came to an end with so many speeches to meditate on, the group that had heartily sang this little light of mine was urged to plant a tree and register it on the Green Belt Movement website under the Humming Bird title. Just like that, the humming birds story lives on.

Written by Maria Wanza

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