Fitting tribute to Wangari Maathai at COP17: Now to take her vision forward

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December 12, 2011 By

Just had an inspiring day. The kind that makes you want to go out there and do something significant. Sign your name to a large portion of the earth, to remain there for eternity. I sat through a session that did just that for me today. The Forest Day 5 at COP17 in Durban South Africa gave a fitting send off and tribute to Wangari Maathai. A touching 8 minute video documented her vision and some of her achievements (based on the video below). Speaker after speaker showered unending praises for her visionary work. It got me thinking.

Wangari Maathai:

Just how much of a difference can a single person or a “not-so-empowered” group of people with an idea to serve make? In Wangari’s words, “Grass roots people can change the world.” That she did. A single and simple idea to plant a tree and get the rest of the world doing the same started movements on the continent and all over the world which have changed the lives of ordinary people, the way we see and appreciate the environment and demonstrated how much well organised pressure from ordinary people can force politicians into action. Whats more, all this she did from humble beginnings.

The Forest Day 5 sessions focused on REDD+ and how to operationalize it (among a few other related issues). Most ideas thrown around by delegates circled around community ownership of land, community-led reforestation projects, and incorporation of agriculture and gender issues. Interesting, especially considering that this is exactly what Wangari thought and set out to do when she started the Green Belt Movement(GBM) in Kenya in the year…wait for it…wait for it… 1977! Suprisingly, more than 3 decades later, the world’s leading thinkers, policy-makers and civic organisations are still debating such a “no-brainer.” The results of Wangari’s approach are self-evident in Kenya,and the mobiliation of global movements. Yet, progress on REDD+ is still very slow.

How did she do it? She was fearless, she got involved, rolled her sleeves and dug in (see video). Wangari challenged the powers that be and forced them to do that which needed to be done. She started small with what was around her and scaled up. Without taking anything away from current well-meaning efforts to get REDD+ working, it looks to me like there is lots to be learnt from Wangari Maathai and GBM. Sealing the REDD+ deal would be a fitting tribute to her. The question is, how? Are we willing to take the stand that she did and can we get the “powers that be” to do what obviously needs to be done, in the way it needs to be done?

At COP17 Forest Day 5 with M Dhlamini (CANGO-Swaziland) and E. Chivhenge (Gottingen University- Germany)

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