Speech by the head of the Jury and the Board Elin Enge

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 15, 2004

Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I have the great honour of formally announcing that

the Sophie Prize 2004 has been awarded to the courageous and most outstanding spokeswoman for the environment in Africa:

Professor Wangari Maathai

The last 3 decades several UN world summits have addressed sustainable development, launching conventions on† the protection of biodiversity, climate change and desertification.

Recent UN Summits have also focussed on† the urgent need to combat poverty. The UN Millenium goals commit the world leaders to lift half of the worlds poorest† 1,2 million living under 1$ a day, out of poverty, by 2015. The overwhelming majority of these poorest are women.

The international consensus to address these issues is an achievement in itself and some progress has been made. But true commitment to active implementation and action in scale is still seriously lacking. This lack of action is detrimental to the environment and to people. In Africa south of Sahara,† poverty is deepening, due to the continued exploitation of resources and people, both through poor† leadership and neoliberal economic policies.

But - in the midst of an Africa in crisis there are substantial signs of hope. This years Sophie Prize winner professor Wangari Maathai stands out. She is the most outspoken and respected environmental activist and one of the most courageous political leaders, in Africa.

She has for the last 30 years has fought fearlessly for the protection of the environment, human rights, social justice, human dignity and the promotion of democratic governance. She has defied the threats on her life imposed on her by the former oppressive leaders in Kenya. She stayed by the people and fought with them for human rights and democracy.

In 1977 Wangari Maathai abandoned a promising academic career to work with poor rural communities to empower them, improve their livelihoods and protect the environment.† She then established the Green Belt Movement which quickly became the largest community based environmental organization in the African region.†† Over 100 000 women have been actively engaged in planting and nurturing the trees. To date 30 million trees have been planted throughout Kenya, now providing rural families with greener and cleaner environments, in addition to firewood, timber, fodder and fruits. In some places the landscape has been completely changed. A change badly needed in a country where only 1,7 % of the tree-cover still remains. The experiences of the Green Belt Movement has been actively shared with other African countries

She has a unique holistic approach combining tree-planting with the empowerment of the local communities. Through the civic education programs the rural and urban poor learn to fight for their human rights, for the protection of the environment and ultimately for democracy. She has lead great public campaigns that has saved the precious few public spaces in Nairobi and as well as forests, from being destroyed.

Wangari draws the link between culture, conservation of biodiversity and a sense of self-respect, dignity and identity. She recognizes that the loss of culture through colonialism and exploitation contributes to the disempowerment of countries and communities and loss of traditional wisdom. This in turn causes people to neglect the natural environment. Bridging the gap between culture, self respect and environmental protection is essential for the future of Africa.

Wangari Maathai has thus moved beyond words and translated the term sustainable development into action. With a tremendous act of will, devotion and self sacrifice she turned the modest start of planting 7 trees into a pan African environmental movement that generates hope for Africa.

After years of oppressive leadership in Kenya, the pro-democracy movement, of which Wangari was a major player, won the Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2002. Wangari won a seat in parliament with an overwhelming majority and was appointed Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment.

Wangari is internationally recognized and honoured as one of the most respected political and environmental leaders not only in Kenya, but internationally. She gives great inspiration to all who fight for the environment and human dignity. Her selflessness and bravery are awesome.

I now have the great pleasure of inviting the Norwegian Minister of Environment , Mr BÝrge Brende, to come forward to hand over the Sophie prize of† 2004, to Professor and vice minister Wangari Maathai.