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Published On: Mon, Sep 26th, 2011

First African Woman to Win Nobel Peace Prize Dead

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died after a long struggle with cancer, the environmental organisation she founded said today. She was 71.

One of Kenya’s most recognizable women, Maathai won the Nobel in 2004 for combining environmentalism and social activism and Indira Gandhi Peace Prize in 2006. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, where over 30 years she mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees.

Edward Wageni, that group’s deputy executive director, said Maathai died in a Nairobi hospital late Sunday. Maathai had been in and out of the hospital since the beginning of the year, he said.

In recognising Maathai, the Nobel committee said that she had stood up to a former oppressive regime in Kenya and that her “unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression.”

Maathai said during her 2004 acceptance speech that the inspiration for her life’s work came from her childhood experiences in rural Kenya, where she witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed biodiversity and the capacity of forests to conserve water.

Although the Green Belt Movement’s tree-planting campaign did not initially address the issues of peace and democracy, she said it become clear over time that responsible governance of the environment was not possible without democracy.

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