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Nobel Laureate Says Protecting Environment Contributes to Peace


Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai has been formally awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Ms. Maathai urged her audience at Oslo's City Hall to recognize that protecting the environment and promoting peace and democracy go hand-in-hand.

Wearing a bright orange African-style dress and a matching ribbon in her hair, the 64-year-old Ms. Maathai was welcomed by about one thousand people, many of them waving small Kenyan flags.

The activist, who nearly three decades ago launched what has turned into an Africa-wide tree-planting movement to stop deforestation, is the first African woman to win the peace prize.

The normally stodgy award ceremony came alive to the beat of drums as a trio of dancers brought the color and sound of Africa to cold and snowy Oslo.

But the Norwegians take the peace prize award seriously, and, shortly thereafter, the ceremony reverted to form.

Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes introduced the first environmentalist to receive the peace prize.

"I call upon Nobel Peace Prize laureate for 2004 Wangari Maathai to come forward to receive the gold medal and the diploma," he says.

Ms. Maathai's selection for the prize raised eyebrows among critics who wondered what saving the forest has to do with promoting peace. But the new Nobel laureate quickly set them straight.

"Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come," Ms. Maathai says.

Her Greenbelt Movement, which, over the years, has planted 30-million trees across Africa, has also sought to empower women and fight corruption.

"Although initially the Greenbelt Movement tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace per se, it soon became clear that governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space," Ms. Maathai says. "Therefore, the tree eventually became the symbol for the democratic struggle."

Ms. Maathai says her campaign mobilized citizens to challenge widespread abuses of power and environmental mismanagement. And she would like to see the trend spread throughout Africa.

"I call on all leaders, especially in Africa, to expand democratic space, to build fair and just societies that allow the creativity and the energy of their citizens to flourish," Ms. Maathai says.

Ms. Maathai, who also received a check for the equivalent of $1.5 million, says she will use the money to expand her Greenbelt Movement around the world.

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