The 18th African Union (AU) summit has renamed the African Environment Day as Wangari Maathai Day, in honour of the late Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
A declaration after the January 29-30 Addis Ababa meeting stated that the “Assembly recognises her unwavering dedication to promoting peace, democracy and human rights in Africa”.
The summit also created the “Wangari Maathai Award for Outstanding Achievements in Environment and Biodiversity Conservation” in her honour. The prize, an attempt to boost conservation efforts, will recognise individuals committed to preserving the environment.
Leader at the annual summit of the 54-member bloc also called on all international financial institutions to cooperate with her Greenbelt Movement organisation and support the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environment.
Trees for memorial
Upon their arrival, heads of State and Governments planted trees in memory of the late Prof. Maathai at the newly-constructed $200m African Union Conference Centre, directly opposite the statue of Kwame Nkrumah. The leaders also called on the continent’s nations to name public landmarks, buildings and roads in honour of Prof. Maathai who died in September 2011 after losing a battle to ovarian cancer.
Green Belt Movement
Prof. Maathai, a politician, a professor of veterinary medicine and conservationist all rolled into one, was best known for sowing the grassroots-based Green Belt Movement that empowers ordinary Kenyans to conserve environment as a way of political and cultural emancipation.
Speaking on one of her green belt movement projects, Prof. Maathai once said: “The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple act of planting a tree, we give hope to ourselves and to future generations.” Even in death, Prof. Maathai’s passion for the environment was still evident.
Instead of the usual timber coffin and elaborate burial rites, she opted for an organic coffin made by ordinary craftsmen using water hyacinth that has been an environmental nuisance in Lake Victoria, and cremation.