UNBOWED by Wangari Maathai

UNBOWED by Wangari Maathai

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As founder of the Green Belt Movement, Maathai is best known as an environmentalist, but this is much more than a memoir of her environmentalism. Maathai takes the reader through her childhood and education, including growing up in a polygamous home, getting an education when most girls stayed home, and being part of the first group of post-colonial Africans to get an American college education. Maathai’s political activism started shortly after her return home as part of the first wave of college-educated Kenyans. Maathai came back anxious to be part of building her newly independent country. However, instead of the job she had been promised, what she found was sexism and tribalism that made it difficult for her to find work. These twin troubles continued to harass her even as she became an associate professor and chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi. Maathai soon became aware of the environmental degradation facing her country and started the Green Belt Movement to combat it. One of the things that makes Maathai’s story so remarkable is that at the point where she becomes active with environmentalism, she sees the larger picture: that tribalism, sexism, poverty, and corruption are all inextricably linked and that to fight one, you must fight them all. She became a crusader on all fronts, who was pilloried in the press, beaten and arrested, ostracized by friends, even lambasted on the floor of parliament (including for being a divorcee), but she never lost hope or insistence on her beliefs. Maathai’s is truly a story of faith and courage, against incredible odds and powerful enemies. While containing moments of great tragedy, both personally and as a post-colonial story, Unbowed is ultimately uplifting and full of hope. Maathai’ s story is linked with the history of Kenya in ways that make it impossible to ignore the pain of modern Africa, and making it powerfully important to students of many disciplines.

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