She was there even after Moi called her the crazy woman with insects in her head and sycophants in parliament chorused calling her a badly behaved woman and a divorcee who was a threat to Kenya's national security.
She was there in press interviews and run-ins with the establishment’s hired goons after graciously kneeling to plant a tree.
She was there, at home with grandmothers in villages urging them to plant more trees,as she was, dining with world leaders in exclusive locations explaining complex concepts of why they urgently need to address climate change.
The grey Monday morning she left us signified the mood that enveloped me and indeed Kenya and the world as we came to terms with the loss of yet another great non-conformist whose courage to turn her back on old formulas while inventing the future had left an indelible mark in Kenya and the world we live in.
Again the words of Thomas Sankara, the former revolutionary President of Burkina Faso rang true to the person that Wangari was: another ‘crazy’ woman who engaged in the politics of space at a personal and public level.
At a personal level she confronted patriachy refusing to be cowed into oblivion by her ex-husband, thereby affirming Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s words that ‘well-behaved women seldom make history.’By Wangari’s refusing to conform as a ‘well-behaved woman’ in her private space she made history and expanded the public space for women and men at a national and international level in various spaces such as the academy, in politics and most importantly the ecological space which she was later feted for as a Nobel Laurent.
These instances of madness and non conformity have led to several legacies she left us on environment, women’s emancipation and politics.On the environment, her madness finally bore fruit when she recovered and secured our public spacessuch as Uhuru park, Karura forest and more recently our water towers: the Aberdare and the Mau complexfrom landgrabbers and corrupt politicians.Internationally, as the co-chair of the Congo-Basin fund she tirelessly campaigned to save the African water tower.
On local politics, she refused to conform to the politics of handouts in her Tetu constituency and left a legacy that is evident in the numerous development projects she initiated. At a national level, she stood by her convictions no matter where her ethnic group, religion or political party was, which cost her the Tetu Parliamentary seat in 2007 when she failed to support the Bananas/Yes team in the referendum.
On women rights, Wangari was a feminist par exellence, who exemplified the personal is political mantra from her days in the National Council of Women of Kenya, as a founder of the Green Belt Movement, to her role as Chairperson of Maendeleo ya Wanawake(MYWO) when she publicly initiated a campaign that supported Wambui Otieno’s bid for SM’s body.
Many ‘well behaved women’ who were beneficiaries of the patrimonial politics of Moi’s leadership refused to support Wangari as she fought for the rights of another ‘crazy’ woman and for a younger generation of Kenyan women who now enjoy these rights.
Embracing the legacy ‘crazy’ men and women
In conclusion, the most notable constant that enabled Wangari and Wambui to soldier on despite adversity and insulting labels such as as ‘mad women’ is their great love for humanity.
A love so great that their revolutionary legacies will be celebrated forever.They both exemplify Che Guevara’s assertion that ‘the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality. We must strive every day so that this love of humanity is transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples and as a moving force.’This is the simple act that these two daughters of Africa urge us to live for and in so doing leave our world a better place than we found it. Love our humanity.
Njoki is a Peace and Security Scholar at the African Leadership Centre (ALC) at King’s College, London.