I mourn a dear friend

Wangari Maathai (1 April, 1940 0 25 September, 2011) was a dear friend, a beautiful woman that was also one of the world’s great leaders. My heart goes out to her children, whose loss is so great.

Wangari stands shoulder to shoulder with Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere as one of Africa’s – and the world’s – wisest and most effective leaders.

I was privileged to know her as a friend; and as a colleague (when she invited me to Princeton University during her sabbatical year there). But above all I was privileged to work closely with her during the Jubilee 2000 campaign. Not only was she Jubilee 2000’s representative in Kenya, but she helped lead the Jubilee 2000 Africa campaign. And then in March, 1999 she came to London to address a huge meeting that Jubilee 2000’s supporters had mobilised at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and that was also addressed by Chancellor Gordon Brown. I remember that visit well. On arrival she told me that she doubted she would ever visit Britain again, because of the way in which she had been interrogated at airport customs. Fortunately she was not to be daunted by British racism and, just two years ago, on one of her many trips to Europe, this picture was taken. We were trying to arrange for her to address another event – this time Operation Noah’s pre-Copenhagen event at Southwark Cathedral with Archbishop Rowan Williams. Sadly, but by then her schedule was so heavy, it proved impossible.

Below are some photos of Wangaari on the Jubilee 2000 campaign trail. May she rest in peace; and may her leadership of that and many other campaigns to protect Africa’s environment, grow in the world’s memory; just as the many trees she planted and helped propagate across Kenya – continue to grow and thrive.

The finest memorial a world leader could leave as a legacy.

Wangari Maathai addresses the crowd in Nairobi, Jubilee 2000 campaign.

Wangari Maathai, “cancel the debt”

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