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Wangari Muta Maathai, 1940-2011

Wangari Maathai was ‘an amazing person’, writes Thandika Mkandawire, relating a story about how Maathai defied the Kenyan government’s attempt to prevent her from attending a ‘subversive conference’ in Uganda.

Wangari Maathai was an amazing person. I first met her in Kampala during the CODESRIA Symposium on Academic Freedom. She arrived a day after the symposium. I was informed of her presence and her need for accommodation. I went looking for her and found her in the lobby of the hotel with a small sack of her belongings she had taken with her. When I made the obvious point that [she was"> too late for the symposium, she replied, with that great smile that was her trade mark: ‘I know, but I made it’.

In Kenya of the time anyone employed in state institutions (including universities) had to seek state permission to travel out of the country to attend a conference. On this occasion the Government simply denied Kenyan academics the permission to travel to attend what must have been perceived as a subversive conference. And so Wangari travelled on land. Obviously there was no way they could stop Wangari.

Africa has lost a Great Daughter and an Inspiring Voice.


* Thandika Mkandawire, former director of CODESRIA, is professor of African Development in the Department of International Development (ID) at the London School of Economics (LSE).
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