The Sophie Prize 2004: The Jury's Decision

The winner of the Sophie Prize 2004 is the courageous and most outstanding spokeswoman for the environment in Africa: 

Professor Wangari Maathai

The Norwegian Sophie Prize 2004 will be awarded to the most outspoken and respected environmental activist in Africa, who 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 pioneered a unique holistic community based approach to development, combining environmental education and empowerment of civil society, especially women.  Her brave defiance to undemocratic and oppressive political leadership has encouraged others in her country and region to stand up for their rights and that of the environment.  She is an inspiration to all those who fight for global justice. 

Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in Kenya, established the organization in 1977, while leading the National Council of Women of Kenya.   This quickly became the largest community based environmental organization in the African region with a focus on tree planting and empowerment of women groups.   Wangari abandoned a promising academic career to work with poor rural communities to empower them, improve their livelihoods and protect the environment.   Through GBM, she mobilised and trained women groups to plant and nurture tree seedlings on their farms and on public lands.  To date, GBM has planted over 30 million trees many of which are now providing rural families with greener and cleaner environments, in addition to firewood, timber, fodder and fruits.  These trees also prevent soil erosion, enhance soil fertility & water conservation and promote biological diversity.  The tree planting campaign is important in a country, which has experienced extensive destruction of forests, which currently leaves only 1.7% of forest cover.  With the leadership of Wangari Maathai the Green Belt Movement launched a Pan African Initiative to share the Green belt experience with other African countries, and the world at large.  

Wangari Maathai has a unique holistic approach to sustainable development.  The communities which have benefited from her program are not only mobilised and trained for tree planting but are also empowered through civic education seminars to promote advocacy for environmental protection and human rights.  Green Belt Movement and Wangari Maathai has contributed profoundly towards building a stronger civil society, that defies corruption and oppression.   Her landmark achievements in advocacy include saved precious public spaces and forests from illegal and irregular allocation.  Some of these include Uhuru Park, Karura Forest and Jivanjee Gardens in Nairobi. 

Wangari appreciates the linkage between culture, conservation of biodiversity and a sense of self-respect, dignity and identity.  She recognizes that the loss of culture through colonialism contributes towards the disempowerment of communities, loss of traditional wisdom and their subsequent disengagement from the natural environment, which later becomes exploited and degraded to the disadvantage of the local communities.  Wangari was instrumental in having a chapter on culture in the on-going historic constitutional review process in Kenya.   

The pro-democracy movement in Kenya, of which Wangari was a major player, culminated in the victory of the coalition of political parties and civil society in 2002 Presidential and parliamentary elections.  During this period, Wangari contested and won a parliamentary seat with an overwhelming majority.  She was subsequently appointed Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment where she is charged with the responsibility of rehabilitating degraded forests, which also serve as water catchment areas.   

For her long, courageous, persistent and devoted service to society and the environment, Wangari has been 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 total dedication, selflessness and bravery are awesome. 

Jury prize awarding grounds:

The jury of the Sophie Prize has decided to grant the Sophie Prize 2004 to Professor Wangari Maathai on account of the following. She has:

  • effectively fought  the deforestation and environmental  destruction in Kenya
  • mobilised grassroots communities in Kenya and Africa for the protection of the environment
  • empowered and improved the livelihood security of thousands of women
  • educated civil society to stand up for their democratic and human rights
  • rekindled African dignity and identity and thus mobilized for sustainable development
  • dedicated her life to building a sustainable future for Africa.
  • supported, motivated and encouraged  all those who campaign for truth and global justice