Unbowed: One woman’s story
Were the peerless environmentalist, human rights activist and Nobel Laureate, Prof Wangari Muta Maathai, still walking among us, she would have been 73 tomorrow, April 1. Today is Christianity’s Resurrection Sunday – a fitting day to revive the memory of she who is sadly no longer with us.
Starting today, I will post reflections on, as well as excerpts from, her autobiograpy, Unbowed: One woman’s story, that we may once more hear this valiant leader par excellence, in her very own words. She who bravely trod where few would dare to tread, never once hesitating to go against the grain or swim against the current, no matter how strong.
For us, Prof Maathai was a national icon, heroine and role model. To Waweru, Wanjira and Muta, she was family: they lost their mother. Prof Maathai dedicates her autobiography to them, and to the memory of her parents.
Her autobiography opens with a quote from the Bible, that aptly covers the cause she devoted her life to:
The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in the land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. Ezekiel 34:27
In today’s excerpt, Prof Maathai ‘speaks’ on a burning topic in Kenya currently – elections and democracy. We not only remember her fondly today, but also her cause, and how far Kenya has come in institutionalising democracy and reforming the electoral process. This is only so because women and men like her stood up for us and fought for our rights. Shukrani Mama.
But we still have more miles to go, and we are the generation that should carry forward the gains she and others won for us, and push the boundaries yet further. Yes, we’re still not where we should be, and the Independent and Electoral and Boundaries Commission has much to answer for on its handling of the March 4 elections, even as the Supreme Court has already delivered its verdict on the petitions questioning the result, while we wait to hear the reasons underpinning the Court’s ruling in the next two weeks.
That said, it still does us no harm to look back, so that we may also appreciate just how far we’ve come, and, even more importantly, why we should now have absolutely zero-tolerance to electoral mismanagement, to dictatorship, and to poor governance in our day. We are, after all, the rightful heirs of Prof Maathai and her comrades-in-arms in their fight for a free and just society. As Uraia Trust remind us, Wakenya wana haki na majukumu – Kenyans have rights and responsibilities. Let’s use our rights to exercise our responsibilities to demand and ensure responsible governance.
Over now to Prof Maathai now, in an excerpt from the chapter Seeds of change, from which we should draw much inspiration:
In 1988, supporters of greater political openness in Kenya focussed their energy and commitments on that year’s national elections. The Green Belt Movement joined others in carrying out pro-democracy activities such as registering voters for the election and pressing for constitutional reforms and political space to ensure freedom of thought and expression. In this way, the Green Belt Movement was not only an environmental, women’s and human rights movement, but also part of the broader movement for democracy.
We hoped that these elections would provide the people of Kenya with a fairer and truer representation of their aspirations and beliefs. To our dismay and despair, however, the elections were the most disturbing and distorted in Kenya’s history. The government introduced a highly controversial system of “queue” voting. Voters lined up behind their candidates and election officials counted each line and then told the people to go home. When election officials announced the winner, it was often the candidate with the shortest line of voters behind him!
Since the voters were at home, there was nothing that could be done: the winner had been declared. The vote-rigging was so blatant that people who had lost their races were declared the winners in broad daylight with no embarrassment whatsoever on the part of the government.
After the elections, Parliament passed a bill to further limit the independence of the Kenyan judiciary. The press was harassed and intimidated too. The Daily Nation, one of the country’s most widely read newspapers, was banned from covering Parliament for four months. Many of us in the pro-democracy movement felt depressed and helpless. “This ruling party is going to be here forever,” we said to one another. This was not helped by the fact that after the elections President Moi declared that KANU would rule for a hundred years.
I knew that we could not live with a political system that killed creativity, nurtured corruption, and produced people who were afraid of their own leaders. It would only be a matter of time before the government and I came into further conflict. The incident that brought me into direct confrontation with the government began, simply and essentially, with one person deciding that something had to be done to protect Uhuru Park.
END OF EXCERPT
Next – the battle for Uhuru Park in the chapter Fighting for Freedom. And if you can’t wait, then please do buy the book. It’ll be worth every cent.
- The passing of a humming bird: A tribute to Prof Wangari Muta Maathai
- Obituary for Prof Maathai in Africa is a country
- A seven-minute Wangari Maathai Tribute Film (commissioned by UNEP, ICRAF and CIFOR)
- The Republic of Fear
- Wanjiku is dead. But who will mourn her when everyone wants to move on?
- Why former President Moi is a political genius
- A dictator’s last laugh