<b>Kenya's green warrior</b> In many African nations, being a voice of dissent is tricky business in the post-colonial era. With the damage done by former European rulers still evident, power-hungry figures routinely dismiss concepts like press freedom and open elections as misguided attempts to reinstate Western domination over sovereign states. But 2004 Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai (The Green Belt Movement) never relented in her attacks on what she deemed oppressive measures and actions by the Kenyan government of Daniel Arap Moi. She also didn't let entrenched traditions limit or restrict her opportunities for education and advancement, nor silence her advocacy on behalf of Kenyan women. Maathai emerged as an inspirational figure not only in her native Kenya, but around the world. Her memoir, Unbowed, recounts her amazing story and details her long fight against corruption, greed and outdated social conventions.
During her youth, Maathai ignored those in her village, including her parents, who loudly proclaimed that girls neither needed nor should want education. After studying with Catholic missionaries, she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in biological science in the United States, and eventually became East and Central Africa's first female doctorate holder and the first to head a university department (veterinary anatomy). Soon, she extended her efforts into the fields of environmentalism and politics. Despite constantly being vilified and attacked by the Moi government, Maathai encouraged and recruited others to join her campaigns. She helped create the Green Belt movement, an initiative that restores indigenous forests while also putting much needed funds in the hands of rural women.
Maathai spearheaded a drive for widespread governmental change that transformed a dictatorship into a constitutional democracy. Finally, after various conflicts that simmered and recurred throughout the late 20th century, a new day began in Kenya. Maathai not only won a Nobel Peace Prize, but also a seat in Kenya's Parliament and a post as deputy minister for the environment and natural resources. Her story as told in Unbowed reaffirms the notion that one person truly can make a difference, no matter how vast the odds or how difficult the quest. <i>Ron Wynn writes for the</i> Nashville City Paper <i>and other publications.</i>