Planting Ideas

Summary Review of Wangari Maathai's "Unbowed"

Review of Wangari Maathai's "Unbowed" in Resurgence 243.


In 1981 Wangari Maathai, a forty-one-year-old divorcee living in Nairobi, had so little money that she drove her three children over to her ex-husband’s house and deposited them with him. With no job, no pension and no home, her prospects, as she puts it in her new autobiography Unbowed, amounted to “zero”. All she had left was an idea.

Twenty-three years later, when she had turned the Green Belt Movement into a worldwide cause, had faced down the corrupt and authoritarian government of Daniel Arap Moi, and had brought women into the heart of the Kenyan political process, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The idea that transformed her life and the lives of so many others was based on a simple premise: “Anyone can dig a hole, put a tree in it, water it, and nurture it.” This one gesture could combat soil erosion and desertification, retain rainwater, provide firewood and restore biodiversity. Maathai’s dream was to plant 15 million indigenous trees: one for every Kenyan. She more than exceeded her own target. So far, 30 million trees have been planted in Kenya alone.