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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 October, 2004, 02:36 GMT 03:36 UK
Locals toast 'Mama Miti's' famous win
By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News in Nyeri

"After I heard the news I looked at peaceful Mount Kenya, just above the Outspans Hotel in Nyeri, where I was sitting, and the poor mountain where our forefathers worshipped seemed to look at me and say thank you for helping me."
Wangari Maathai and President Mwai Kibaki
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki congratulated Wangari Maathai

Crowds of Wangari Maathai's constituents had gathered at the local chief's camp to get famine relief rations, and could hardly understand the unexpected demand for their MP's time by the assembled local and international media crews.

Women with battered empty sacks and faces hoping for rations to keep them moving for the next few days could not stop themselves from interrupting Mrs Maathai's speech.

Speaking in Kikyuyu, the local dialect, they asked the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize who she had brought with her.

Almost shedding tears of joy once again, the ecologist explained to the anxious women and a few men that finally, after a long struggle, the international community had noticed her 30-year struggle to protect Kenyan forests.

To the crowd that was not news. They knew the Kenyan deputy environment minister as "Mama Miti" - a Swahili moniker meaning the mother of trees.

African legend

Although many did not understand exactly what the prize meant to people in the Tetu constituency which Mrs Maathai represents in parliament, they clapped and cheered when she mentioned that she had joined the likes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Those at least were names the rural folk might have heard of.

Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai's win was major news on Kenyan television
In Nyeri town, hotels and local pubs were jam-packed with curious but non-spending patrons who were glued to the local television stations as presenters splashed the news that Kenya's mother of the environment had received the world's most prestigious award.

"Wow, what will she do with that kind of money at her age?" I heard one curious viewer ask, referring to the Skr10m ($1.3m) that Mrs Maathai will win.

But when I asked her that same question just a few minutes earlier, she had an answer.

"I will first get good money managers who have dealt with that amount of cash, then have them divide it for various conservation projects, but also spend some to buy bags of maize for my drought-stricken constituents."

By the time I left Nyeri town, Mrs Maathai was shaking the hands of her boss, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who seemed equally as moved by the news of the award.

Back home at the busy back street pubs the local revellers were toasting the lady who first blazed a trail for womenfolk in East Africa when she received a PhD nearly two decades ago.

They were proud that she had done it again.

Profile: Wangari Maathai
08 Oct 04 |  Africa
The Nobel: Dynamite or damp squib?
08 Oct 04 |  Middle East
Timeline: Kenya
10 Aug 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Kenya
18 Jun 04 |  Country profiles


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