In This Review

By Wangari Maathai
Knopf, 2006, 352 pp

The charismatic leader of Kenya's environmental movement and 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has written an affecting memoir. The inspirational, if somewhat artless, narrative starts with her hardscrabble youth in the Kikuyu highlands, goes on to the Catholic missionary education that brought her to a small college in Kansas in 1960, and then describes her triumphal return to Kenya as the country's first female university lecturer. The second half of the book covers her emergence as a passionate anti-deforestation activist as the head of the Green Belt Movement. Forced out of her position at the university for her increasingly militant environmental activism, Maathai essentially reinvented herself within the nascent Kenyan civil society. She recounts her bitter struggles with the government, the simple yet effective organizational structure she built, and her increasingly important ties to the Western networks of women's groups, environmental activists, and donor organizations that provided her with resources, publicity, and a discourse of high-minded international progressivism. She essentially invented a new kind of public role for herself within the Kenyan polity.