Norway – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai said she hopes being the first environmentalist to win the prestigious award will help others to understand that the struggle to protect the environment is linked to the promotion of peace.
‘Most wars that are fought in the world are fought over what? Natural resources,’ the 64-year-old Kenyan told reporters at the Nobel Institute in downtown Oslo. ‘If you don’t manage your natural resources equitably, you cannot have peace.’
Maathai, the first African woman and first Kenyan to win the award, was selected for her role in founding the Green Belt Movement, which has sought to empower women, improve the environment and fight corruption in Africa for nearly 30 years. She is to formally receive the award in a ceremony in Oslo on Friday.
A deputy environment minister in the Kenyan government, she also won acclaim for her campaign to fight deforestation by planting 30 million trees in Africa, making her Nobel prize the first to acknowledge environmentalism as a means of building peace.
When the award was announced in October, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said the committee ‘added a new dimension to peace’ by choosing Maathai.
Maathai said protecting the environment is a vital part of building both a democratic and peaceful society.
‘Without this link, we cannot make progress, we cannot have peace and we cannot have development,’ Maathai said, speaking in English and wearing a bright green dress. Maathai dedicated the award to the hundreds of women in Kenya who have been part of the Green Belt Movement.
‘I hope that we shall live up to the challenges and responsibilities that this great honor bestows on us,’ she said. ‘(The media’s) attention has made it possible for us to pass the message we’ve been trying to pass for 30 years,’ she said. ‘Now the world is listening.’
It’s given her money, too. The prize includes a cash award of 10 million kronor (US$1.5 million). It has also given women throughout Africa a stronger voice in often male-dominated societies. Maathai said she hoped the award would give African women more influence and a more respected stature among men.
‘In Kenya, I have not met one man who did not have a smile on his face and did not have a word of congratulations,’ she said.
‘I think there will be a shift (in gender politics) throughout Africa.’
Maathai declined to give her views on the war in Iraq, saying only that ‘we can only hope this conflict will end very soon, so we can start reconstruction.’
The Nobel Prizes are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of their creator, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.
The peace prize is presented in Oslo, while the other Nobel prizes are awarded in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Last year, the peace prize was given to Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.