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 recognisable women, Ms Maathai won her Nobel in 2004 for combining science and social activism.
She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, where over 30 years she mobilised poor women to plant 30 million trees.
Edward Wageni, that group’s deputy executive director, said Ms Maathai died in a Nairobi hospital late last night.
Ms Maathai was in and out of the hospital since the beginning of the year, he said.
Although the Green Belt Movement's tree planting campaign did not initially address the issues of peace and democracy, Ms Maathai said it become clear over time that responsible governance of the environment was not possible without democracy.
“Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilised to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement,” Ms Maathai said.
The Green Belt Movement, which was founded in 1977, said on its website that Ms Maathai’s death was a great loss to those who “admired her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier and better place”.
Ms Maathai is survived by her three children. Funeral arrangements were to be announced soon, the Green Belt Movement said.