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Green Values: ECOLOGY • SOCIAL JUSTICE • GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY • NONVIOLENCE

Wangari Maathai — Her Legacy for Kenya's Young Greens (continued)

By Douglas Arege

In 2007 while surfing the internet I came across an opportunity that I could not resist. Over the years I had been involved in school through the Kenya Wildlife Club and doing environmental activism on campus. A global event was planned for Kenya, and what pulled me to is was the fact that this organization was presenting itself as ecologically conscious, supportive of human rights and grassroots democracy! I was excited and started communicating with the organizers and this is how I came to be involved with the organizing of the Global Young Greens congress in 2007, which took place days before the World Social Forum at Kasarani, Nairobi.

In all this organizing and planning for the Global Young Greens congress I interacted with local organizers that included officials from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Nairobi office, the Green Belt Movement, Mazingira Greens party and a couple of college students and journalists. The planning meetings were never easy. One man single-handedly bulldozed decisions without care and consultations, whereas as greens we are supposed to develop consensus.

This made me think if this was the real presentation, and face of Wangari Maathai, a lady I had respected and held with deity esteem in me; learning from her bravery and commitment to environmental conservation. I was young and passionate about driving green activism and politics, but I realized that some people in the Kenyan Mazingira Greens Party were hell bent to use Wangari Maathai and her work for personal gain.

Wangari Maathai skipped the Global Young Greens congress to the dismay of many young greens that were looking forward to her electrifying presence, since then she missed the Global Greens Congress in Sao Paolo, Brazil and one would wonder why she would miss such important global green gatherings.

I however met Wangari Maathai face to face at an AU-ECOSOCC meeting in Nairobi’s Windsor Hotel, where we had a chit chat and she was excited to have met me!. She told me she had heard of me and asked that I visit her Greenbelt Movement offices for a discussion on how I would be useful to her work. This excited me and soon I had a meeting with one of her staff and voila was engaged with GBM in a tree planting and civic education project posted to Nithi area of Meru/Mount Kenya forest. I stayed there for three months before I was posted to Kisii, where after I left GBM to pursue other interests. My initial interest was to work with Wangari Maathai in building the African Greens political network, which she was passionate about and rebranding the Mazingira Greens Party. But due to the nature of her work and engagements she would not be able to fully control other actors who did not have green interests at heart.

My impressions still remain positive about Wangari Maathai, who at times was captive of the forces that surrounded her, but deep down she wanted to see a new kind of deal in Kenya and Africa where environmental conservation and sustainable development were in tandem.

As I celebrate this virtuous benevolent green icon, I know that her efforts can only bear fruit if we all as young people embrace her work and agenda for protection of natural resources from selfish exploitation. The Wangari Maathai Legacy will continue living in me as I seek to help build a strong Kenya Young Greens and Federation of Young African Greens.

Wangari Muta Maathai’s charm and mentorship have inspired many young greens in Kenya who have gone out to impact their communities. Ann Bulimu, the current Africa representative to Global Young Greens and Chairperson of Kenya Young Greens, Philip Otieno, who has grown to a prolific researcher and climate change expert, Eric Ochieng an environmentalist and ICT expert who has consulted for UNHABITAT, myself a former Africa representative to the Global Young Greens and current Secretary General of the Kenya Young Greens. I dare say without fear of contradiction that Kenya Young Greens is one of the strongest green movements, even though we do not have a link with the official green party in Kenya. 2012 is an election year and I do not know what the Mazingira Greens Party has to push the green agenda in Kenya. We cannot feel it, when the opportunity is huge to promote alternative leadership.