Editor's note: Wangari Maathai went on to serve her country as a parliamentarian, an assistant minister and an ambassador. Internationally recognized for her activism in the fields of democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, Wangari was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004; she passed away in 2011. For a complete biography go to:
Prof. Wangari Maathai was raised as one of six children in the village of Ihithe in Nyeri district, the heart of Kikuyu country. Wangari was educated by Catholic missionaries at Limuru High School, from where she earned a spot in the “Kennedy Airflight” program designed to bring Kenyan students to the United States at the cusp of independence. After earning two science degrees, Maathai returned home to become the founder and coordinator of an environmental group called the Green Belt Movement. She reveals her age, with a characteristic twinkle in her eye as “over 40, under 50.”
I was drawn to Wangari Maathai when she rose to prominence as one of the most outspoken, fearless personalities in Kenya. She walked a tightrope between fame and self-destruction late last year when she almost single-handedly stood up and opposed the government's plans to construct a 60-story skyscraper on one of the busiest intersections in Nairobi. The Kenya Times Media Complex, as it was to be called, was going to be put right at the corner on land that is being used as a public park. Uhuru Park in fact. (Uhuru is the word for freedom, and the park is a national treasure as it represents not only Kenya's independence struggle, but is also the only large park in the overcrowded city where the average people can go to relax with their children). She provided evidence to show how the construction would have destroyed the park; the government arrogantly dismissed all protests with statements such as "whether the people like it or not." So Wangari Maathai took them on, and she was lambasted continuously in Parliament. They accused the Green Belt Movement of being an underground organization trying to overthrow the government; they ridiculed her because she was a divorcee. Married to an MP, she dumped him in public a few years back, a fact that the hyper-chauvanistic African male politicians never forgave her for; one MP actually put a salala (curse) on her.
To Wangari's credit she never flinched, and played it as close to the book as she could, following and respecting parliamentary procedure and the constitution. She could never legally be accused of dissidence. In time though the personal attacks on her would become too much, and the print media (excepting of course the government-controlled organs) would quote her at her classic best, which can be a sharp, sarcastic message delivered with intellect, reason and humor. For example Mr. Shariff Nasir, an assistant minister for Information and Broadcasting and the KANU chairman for Mombasa (on the coast), who is famous for his shallow, fascist-type statements such as "anyone who doesn't support my new development project is anti-government and anti-president (really, this is the mentality of many of Kenya's parliamentarians, a fact that makes Ouko's loss even greater)-- anyway, Nassir joined the Maathai-bashing, saying among other things that Maathai "represents nobody," to which she responded: "Mr. Nassir, a member of parliament is not a deity. He cannot know until he is informed and information cannot infiltrate into him through osmosis. He has to use his eardrums or read, hence the need to use the alphabet to parse ideas and thoughts. You are one of the members who always accuse people of being anti-government or anti-president. That is now your well-known gimmick. That is how you silence others. Why is it that every time a citizen raises a voice and expresses an opinion, you call upon the government to silence them? What are you afraid of and what are you protecting, if not your own interests?"
To me she confided that when the president himself publicly berated her for not showing the kind of respect African women are supposed to show to their men, it was a perfect example of the selective use of such African traditions -- when it's convenient to say such things to shut up someone like Maathai who is acting as a thorn in their sides, they evoke all sorts of traditions. But most of the time, she stressed, they dress, live and think as much like the Europeans that they're trying to catch up with on the world markets. It's candid remarks like that which make Wangari Maathai a refreshing, precious and loveable commodity in today's Kenya. She invited me to her home in a Nairobi suburb, where she was unfailingly patient, gracious and candid during the following interviews.
PART 1: PERSONAL INSIGHTS JUNE 5, 1990
"There has been a gap, during the time of colonialism, when my people were persuaded to believe that their heritage was not worth preserving. It is very difficult now to recapture that heritage because there is still a lot of fight, a lot of obstruction of any effort to go back to that heritage as much as we say that we want to go back. And there is a definite disadvantage that it was not put in a written form so that we can read, and most of our anscestors have died, and so the heritage was not passed on…."
DB: What did your parents do?
WM: My parents were just ordinary Kikuyu peasant farmers, but my father emigrated into the Rift Valley (Nakuru), like it was common in those days, and he became a squatter on one of the settler's farms, and he was a driver and a mechanic. And that's where we were raised. And after some time we were sent back to Nyeri for the purpose of going to school, because there were no schools there on the settler's farms. My parents were sufficiently enlightened to see the need for their children to go to school, so we were sent to school, which I think was wonderful, because it was very easy for us to stay there and not go to school.
DB: What made you get into micro-anatomy?
WM: That was nothing that I planned. I think it was by chance. When I was in high school, I did well in the sciences, and I had a very nice teacher who encouraged me to go into the sciences. And when I finished in 1959, which was just at the dawn of independence, the politicians were very busy organizing what has been known as the "Kennedy Airflight" for Kenyan students. The Tom Mboya-Kennedy thing. I was part of that-- I went on the catholic ticket. So I went to Kansas, and again I was interested in biological sciences, so I pursued that, and when I came back to the University of Nairobi in 1966, it was natural for me to look for teaching positions in the faculty of science. But it was in the faculty of veterinary medicine that I found a job.
DB: During your period in America, how did you contrast it against life at home? What kind of an impact did it have on your thinking?
WM: I think that is probably the thing that molded me. I think if I had grown up here and I had stayed here, I would probably not be finding people so strange when they prevent me from expressing my opinion. As a child as I was growing up under colonialism, there wasn't much expression to make, because we were children then. But nobody told you you could not express yourself, either. And then my formative years, of the early twenties were in the United States, where the freedom of expression is so, so free, you take it for granted. You can say what you want, and as a result people tend to be very responsible with what they say, because they’re not trying to hide, or to manipulate anybody. They're very free with what they say and they really believe in what they say.
DB: Did you get involved or were you touched in any way with the anti-Vietnam demonstrations going on during those years?
WM: I was there, but they did not affect me. It was also during the high time of the freedom rights marches, the Martin Luther King things and all of that.
DB: Did you follow him at all?
WM: No, I was in a very small college, which was mostly white, so I was in many ways very protected. There were three of us from Kenya, and there were no more thatn six or seven black students on the whole campus. And the town is very small-- it was mostly the college. So you read about and you heard about the terrible experiences when you met the other students, but for me personally I was wonderfully protected from all that harassment. So I had a wonderful experience in America, and when I came back (to Kenya) I was full of enthusiasm-- I really wanted to do things here-- and I've never lost that enthusiasm, but I've been amazed by the irrelevant obstacles that are often placed in front of me, you know (laughs lightly).
DB: Backing up a bit to before you left Kenya. This was during the time of the emergency, and you were in Nyeri, which was a very hot area. What were your experiences during that time, and how do you think they affected your nationalistic, anti-colonial or anti-imperialistic feelings?
WM: At that time I was too young to appreciate what was happening. I remember experiencing things that were nasty like running out of the house at night and going to sleep in the forest because we were afraid that either the government forces or the Mau Mau forces would come and harass, because either way we were not safe. Especially because I was a young growing girl, just a pre-teenager, and those women were very vulnerable because of the attacks by the men during this crisis. So people were really protecting young girls especially, and that's why we would be rushed to the bushes whenever we heard anything. So I knew then that it was not a pleasant experience. But this was only during the holidays, because during the term, I was already in a boarding school, where we were protected.
In the boarding schools of course, we were also indoctrinated to believe that the Mau Mau was doing the wrong things-- that it was killing. . . it was a mission school, so the missionaries were very busy letting us know that definitely none of those Mau Mau's would get to heaven (laughs).
DB: And you had no reason not to believe that?
WM: Of course! I had no reason not to believe it, because exactly what they were doing was what I was being taught was wrong. You don't kill, you don't steal. . . the issues of freedom, of oppression, were not being discussed, deliberately of course. This was part of the (colonial) administration machinery. It was a Catholic school, but we now all understand that the Italians had lost the second World War, and they were here at the mercy of the British, and one of the agreements was that they should not interfere with the administration. Of course at that time I didn't even understand there had been a second world war (laughs). So to me they were all people from Europe, teaching us how to read and write, and love God, and all that. A very nice involvement.
DB: Are you still Catholic today?
WM: I'm still Catholic today. Let me put it this way, I'm not as orthodox as I was then. I think I'm a little wiser now and I know the games people play, even within the churches. I try to understand what is really important in terms of dealing with the powers, and dealing with the weaknesses of the people that have also been infiltrated into the church. And now I know why the Catholic sisters were telling us to pray for the Mau Mau's, and why we were praying that the British would win, so that we have peace.
DB: Would you encourage people today to pray for Shariff Nassir?
WM: Well I would pray for him to ask the powers to give him enlightenment, so he can see the true value of life, and to not be so greedy so as to sacrifice your principles and the important things in life just because you want favors from those in power.
DB: Perhaps that was a funny question, but what I am getting at is this: is your religion a guiding force in your daily activities?
WM: Yeah, I think my religion is a guiding force, because I feel I have a very close communication with the powers that I've always believed in. I believe there is a superpower there-- it doesn't have to be an individual-- of course it's not an individual. Whichever shape and size it has, I do not know. I only know it must manifest itself through me and all the other life forms, and that is why to me the involvement (in the KTMT controversy) is an important issue. I want to respect all forms of life. I want to feel that the mission I have been called to carry out is a mission that these trees are not called to do. I feel enlightened to protect them, because they are playing a role. The fact that we do not quite understand that role is irrelevant to the cause and to the destiny. So I feel that I am just part of that destiny and as long as my conscience tells me that this is right, I try to follow my conscience much moreso than I will follow people who I may consider are definitely being directed by the Satan in us, rather than the guiding light in us.
DB: It almost sounds as if you could subscribe to, for example, Ngai of Kirinyaga as being a God of nature, than any particular mission-taught God.
WM: I have a lot of faith in God, and whether that God is on Mt. Kenya as my anscestors believed, or is up on the clouds, it makes no difference. I know he is not on the clouds, and I know he is not on Mt. Kenya, either. He is everywhere (laughs). And so I don't allow myself to be persuaded with the paraphenalia that man has coated the truth with. We do not know the truth, but I think that most of us get glimpses of truth sometimes. Man has tended to coat, or envelope this truth into paraphenalia that sometimes blocks our perception, so that we see the wrong thing.
DB: You were mission educated and you've also been to America. This, along with your upbringing by what you've described as peasant farmer parents has allowed you to see both sides of the African coin, so to speak. There is now a real tug of war between the influences of Western society and traditional African society. In your mind, how important is this in what's happening today in society in Kenya.
WM: Well you know there should not be a conflict. At least I try not to allow a conflict in my life, between my African heritage and my exposure to the West. My exposure to the West was mainly to help me read and write, and read ideas of other people, and to write my own ideas and communicate them with other people. That exposure has helped me to understand my own heritage much better. I think I am one of the Africans who are seeking to understand the heritage and to go back to that heritage, because in losing that heritage you are less and not more. And there is only a conflict there when people want to tell you that "your heritage is nothing-- what I'm giving you is correct." I don't believe that.
My heritage is very important, upon which I must build, and the only disadvantage I have is that a lot of my heritage was not written in a form that I can now read for myself. There has been a gap, during the time of colonialism, when my people were persuaded to believe that their heritage was not worth preserving. It is very difficult now to to recapture that heritage because there is still a lot of fight, a lot of obstruction of any effort to go back to that heritage as much as we say that we want to go back. And there is a definite disadvantage that it was not put in a written form so that we can read, and most of our anscestors have died, and so the heritage was not passed on…. So from that point of view, there is sometimes a frustrated anxiety of "if only I knew," but I don't see any conflict. I don't see any conflict at all. I am very grateful for the exposure. I do not think I would have been what I have been if I did not have that exposure, because I do not think I would have had the courage to withstand the pressure.
DB: In that respect, one might consider you enlightened. But beyond your personal experience, could you share your feelings on the impact of Western influences on society as a whole? Nowadays there is a great emulation of Western fashions, and the capitalistic fervor for "success" has according to many observors come at the expense of some of the traditionally cherished aspects of African culture; for example, the extended family.
WM: Well that comes to people who you could say have not had this other "side of the coin." Ever since the coming of the Europeans here, the whole emphasis has been materialism, capitalism, business, accumulation of material wealth. The special aspects of life, and the real deep values that have guided our people for so long and have brought them that far, have been grossly minimized. So we have tended, in the last decades, to glorify material acquisition. To glorify education, and to glorify anything that we see coming from people who to us were very powerful. They came very powerfully, and they overwhelmed us. They had education, for example-- the act of reading and writing was extremely revolutionary in our society. And the technology that has almost gone beyond our concepts, within a very short period has made us not even be able to recover from the first shock, so that we are completely overwhelmed by what is happening across the seas. And we think that we should have that, and we think that we can have it, and we do not have time to reflect on how we should be able to acquire the same through our own innovation, rather than make ourselves markets for consumption. We have made ourselves markets, and by doing so we have made ourselves very vulnerable to exploitation. And it is very difficult to break that, because it's the leaders who should be breaking, but it is the leaders who are leaders in this area. (Laughs) They're so busy doing that that they are corrupting countries.
PART 2: THE STRUGGLE OVER UHURU PARK & THE KENYA TIMES MEDIA COMPLEX JUNE 5, 1990
“I don't remember any issue since independence that has raised so much controversy, so much public outcry. But I have been disappointed-- or rather I have been surprised-- that the leaders have reacted the way they have reacted. I would not have expected anybody to really, well, they would not be happy obviously because if they had wanted public opinion, they would have requested it before they started. But the fact that it came forward, it should not have surprised them, because that is within the mandate of the people.”
I first decided to seek out Wangari Maathai last year when the government had, in an attempt to intimidate and silence, evicted her from the buildings the Green Belt Movement had used for ten years. Still working in her nearly emptied office, she seemed good-humored and defiant in her disgust for the arrogance the parliamentarians show toward their consituents, and the treatment they were showing her for attempting to stop the construction through constitutional means. I interviewed her three times, and also interviewed her lawyer. She had tried to stop the construction by filing an injunction, but the court ruled that she had no mandate to do so for the people; only the attorney general has the mandate. The lawyer gave me a copy of a case from 1981 that showed that precedent had been set where someone could in fact represent the public under certain conditions. Her lawyer conceded, "legally, we had a strong case, but a very weak one politically."
The Kenya Times is the government mouthpiece-- really the worst of three newspapers in Kenya, partially owned by Robert Maxwell, the Czech-born media mogul from the UK who was close buddies (or at least a sychophantic ally to, according to a series of biographies he wrote) several Eastern European dictators who have since fallen, including Ceucesceu of Romania. So now the Kenya Times was planning to build an ambitious skyscraper complex that would overburden an already congested traffic situation, not to mention damage the environment surrounding the beloved park. Maxwell and Moi?
As the story became more intriguing, I started to feel less secure about getting more deeply involved. I was told that when an attorney for the opposition went to the Land Commission to find out who actually owns the land (in preparation for his case), he found that all the documents had been removed. A friend of his at the commission told him in utmost secrecy that the property had been sold to Moi's son who then turned around and sold it to the Kenya Times Media Trust for 300 million Kenya shillings, or roughly 15 million dollars. Not that "utmost secrecy" means much-- it's fairly common knowledge that Moi's sons are real estate and business sharks. So the lawyer wasn't risking too much by telling me. Still, when I found this and some other things out, I decided to cool my heels and not do the story-- it is the type of rumor that absolutely can't be confirmed, and I wouldn't be able to write a story without mentioning it. At the time I was debating seriously whether it was worthwhile to do a story that could end my stay in Kenya (or worse), and since there are other things I'd like to do here, I opted to shelve it.
In the long run, it was not really what Wangari Maathai and other environmentalists did, but rather the geography of the location that stopped the construction of a Kenya Times Media Complex in the heart of Nairobi—a city who’s name means “place of cool water.” The engineers determined that since most of Nairobi is built on a swamp, and there is a river running underneath that piece of land, it would be too dangerous to build such a mammoth structure. It would in fact destabilize most of the other buildings in Nairobi, for a radius of some blocks. Though this decision was reported on the BBC, it never really made the local press, and many people still talk of the area as the sight where the Kenya Times Complex is going to be built. Incredible but predictable that the government wasn't willing to admit it. Apparently what they've decided to do, now that they've got the land, is to build a "5-star" hotel on the sight, but only 30 stories instead of 60. Sixty stories would have made it the tallest monument in black Africa, and would have come complete with a (cringe-worthy to many) larger-than-life statue of His Excellency himself.
The other side of this controversy was that the government was going to have to borrow most of the 4 billion shillings needed to put up their dream building, which brought howls of protest from international donor agencies. Questions about the viability of Kenya affording to take on such a loan, when agencies from all over the world were already initiating and financing water development and other projects for the government. Even the World Bank themselves, masters of international neo-colonial exploitation and imperialistic bullying, played a major role in discouraging the project. The World Bank is not unfamiliar with playing the pot to the kettle-- suffice to say that last week, I ran into their Uganda country head, an American who after 4 1/2 years seemed surprised to learn that the country was burdened with uncounted thousands of war and AIDS orphans.
Aside from all that, Maathai also told me that she heard from her sources that Moi had been buddying up to Romania's dictator, taking lessons in corruption and exploitation from him. It is rumored that Moi was having a secret army trained in Romania, but they were killed during the revolution there last December. It's hard to sift through all of this to decide what to believe, but based on the things I've seen and heard, it all seems feasible.
DB: Yesterday, there was an article in one of the local newspapers quoting you as saying that the "battle" for Uhuru Park is officially over-- yet you've told me that there is a need to continue the campaign. What is next?
WM: What I want to emphasize is that this battle of course has many faces and many shapes. There is the very vocal debate that we have been holding mostly through the press, and that I think to a large extent is over, because I feel that we have exhausted all the channels that we had. We have expressed our opinion in the press, we have gone to the courts, we wanted a demonstration and were not given a license. So there is very little as long as we want to confine ourselves to the rule of law, which has been our main emphasis-- we are dealing with a legal issue and should not go beyond the law, also because it's dangerous to do that. We also have come to know that our (Green Belt) groups that are working in the rural areas planting trees have been harassed and intimidated, so we wanted to reassure them that there is nothing to fear, and that there is nothing more we are doing. And also to let those who are harassing them to realize that there is nothing else we are going to do as far as the general public is concerned, including our field groups.
What this now means is that the debate will now go into what I will call "boardrooms." There are many people discussing this both here locally and abroad, because as you know we are getting this money (to construct the complex) from abroad. So I'm sure the financiers have to consider whether they are really going to give us this money, how shall we pay, will the opposition to the complex have any impact on the economic situation-- because that to them must be important. As far as here, locally, as you know a ten man committee was appointed by the president. I'm sure this committee has some studies to do-- in fact they have not done any environmental impact study that may now become necessary to do. So I am quite sure that the discussions will go on. Within the environmental movement we will continue to discuss this issue because these are the kind of issues we are trying to confront not only here but all over the world. We want to see how should the law have been; where we stopped in court before we spoke; what can we do in the future. These issues don't stop there, but they have nothing to do with the groups in the rural areas, and this is why we issued that statement, to reassure them that their part of the demonstration is over.
DB: What is your personal role now? Are you going to be involved in this boardroom debate?
WM: Well I'll continue to inform people about the issue, and to inform them about the constraints we encountered. We will continue to see if there are any people who can speak to those who must eventually make the decisions-- if there are we have to give them information, and find out how best we can approach those who will eventually make those decisions. That is why I say the debate really is not over, but it has taken a different shape, and for the majority of the people in this country, they won't hear anything, they will only see things happening.
DB: In practical terms then, do you really think the construction of the complex at the chosen site will be stopped?
WM: I really cannot say that, because we are dealing here with the government, and the government has power, and can do whatever it feels like. So if the government decided to go ahead, there is absolutely nothing we can do. What we are hoping is that by expressing our opinion, and demonstrating that the opposition is a very strong opposition, that the government might rethink.
DB: Going back to the time of your court case, it seemed that they threw your case out of court on a techinicality. What are your feelings now on the ruling?
WM: We had two aspects of the technicality, that I do quite understand and I must admit that I have not sought the advice of the lawyers because they themselves would not do something that they knew was technically wrong. But apparently they should have served the complaint to the lawyer of the defendant beforehand, and they were under the impression that that wasn't necessary. It was argued otherwise. The other technicality was the argument that to me holds water. This was the argument that I did not have a mandate from the public, and I cannot represent myself-- according to our law, only the attorney general has been given the mandate to represent either an individual or the public on matters that touch not on private property, but on public property. That to me is a technicality that holds water, and that is where the law now must be studied and surely we must rectify that situation because as indicated then, the attorney general can refuse. And he did refuse, because I wrote to him on behalf of several people including myself and my children and everybody, and he didn't even bother to reply to my letter. Now when you have that situation, the public must have something they can resort to. So I think that the law should be changed. But that may not happen tomorrow, because right now I'm sure they are glad that it is like that.
DB: Part of the case that you put forth is that there is a stipulation somewhere that states that that stretch of land along Chiromo Road and Uhuru Highway should remain a green belt until the year 2000.
WM: Yes, that is stated in the by-laws of the City Commission Act. The City Commission has been given a mandate by the central government, so that in its planning a town, certain rules and regulations must be followed and cannot be broken. Unless of course that exemption is given by the central government-- perhaps by parliament or by the minister in charge. In the simplest terms, there should have been a change of user, from the land being public land, available to the public as a park, to becoming a site where a private-- well private "quasi-public" because it is a party (KANU)-- that the party can then acquire that land and put a building. Since this company is a limited company, from that point of view it's almost a private thing, at least as far as the owners of the company are concerned. So there should have been an allocation approved by the minister, at the very least, to have this change of user, which was not done. That alone, we feel, should have disqualified the company from interfering with the public park.
DB: KTMT hasn't released an environmental impact report yet. What threat to the environment, besides the obvious problems of traffic and congestion, and the destruction of the immediate environment, do you forsee?
WM: There is a very good statement that was issued by the Architectural Association of Kenya. They actually bought space in thenewspaper to point out the technical reasons why the building should not be put there, including the fact that that part of the park, and of Nairobi, is a swamp, and that there is a lot of water underground. Some people even say there is a river underground. We all know that Nairobi is a swamp. So they feel that short of a very comprehensive report that would have shown that there is technology that can put a building like that up there, it is a risky business. Also the fact that we are very close to the Rift Valley, and everybody knows that we are along a quake-prone area. Although we haven't had anything equivalent to what has happened in San Francisco, or in Latin America recently, that doesn't mean it can't happen. So one has to be very careful. Other reasons include the obvious fact that the city council of Nairobi is not equipped to deal with emergencies in such a high-rise building. We have fires that they cannot put out in bungalows, partly because they don't have water, or the machine is not high enough or fast enough, the roads are not good enough. . . so to me these are other issues. We really don't have to wait until we have disaster to come to the conclusion that that was a white elephant that should never have been put there.
To me, my main area is environmental. Our main thrust is that, this is a park! It is the only park in the center of Nairobi, a city which has already deprived the public of most of the private areas that were left by the founding fathers of Nairobi, and have been usurped through corruption, that in the first place made the government dissolve the City Council and create a commission of appointed commissioners. They were trying to get rid of corruption that they said was partly denying Nairobi of any open spaces. Corruption was making it possible for rich people to go and grab all these empty spaces. (Laughs) That is exactly what we are now dealing with the only real park left in the middle of Nairobi! And the fact that it is being done by the party really doesn't make it any better-- it doesn't justify-- if anything, you would have expected that the party, of all people, would have been more concerned.
DB: If you add up all the factors, facts and details, it would seem almost totally illogical that they would even want to put up such a large project at this site. In the face of all this evidence, and the public outcry, why do you suppose that they are maintaining that that is the only place they can put it?
WM: Well I think that there is an element that has been demonstrated, especially by their reaction towards me-- hurling abuses at me, attacking me publicly, and now as I say harassing the groups associated with us. These are indications that they feel that they should never have been questioned. That because they made a decision, that decision should have gone through without question. Which of course is very dangerous thinking. It is sad, because this is a democratic country-- we are supposed to have freedom of expression-- the question of an attitude that apparently leaders have in this country, that they must not be questioned by any citizen once they have made their decision-- and that of course I did not know.
DB: Do you see this as something that has developed recently? Is this kind of attitude growing, or has it always been there?
WM: I don't remember any issue since independence that has raised so much controversy, so much public outcry. But I have been disappointed-- or rather I have been surprised-- that the leaders have reacted the way they have reacted. I would not have expected anybody to really, well, they would not be happy obviously because if they had wanted public opinion, they would have requested it before they started. But the fact that it came forward, it should not have surprised them, because that is within the mandate of the people.
DB: Do you feel that you have been lumped into the category of say our religious leaders, who are always being told to stay out of political issues?
WM: Well I think that I am definitely being put among the people who oppose the government. Which of course is a very sad thing, because I'm not opposing the government, I'm just expressing an opinion.
DB: Since the beginning, you've gone on record as saying that you're not against the construction of the Times Complex itself, but only against its placement within the environs of Uhuru Park. Yet even up until the last few days you've been attacked for being against the project itself.
WM: Yeah, they always say that. So either they are not understanding what I've been saying, or they are deliberately misinforming the public. And unfortunately, the major part of the public doesn't read for itself-- it is heresay that they depend on. So if they are told that I am opposing the construction, and yet the construction is going to create employment, it's going to improve the foreign exchange earning, which has become almost like God. . . it is going to improve the prestige of Nairobi. . . I mean people cannot see why anybody in his right senses would oppose that. That is why I keep emphasizing that I'm not (against the project). There must be something that somebody is hiding if they want to distort what you are saying! There is no need to distort what I'm saying, unless one wants to cover up something.
DB: What would they be trying to cover up?
WM: Well I don't know what they're covering up-- they haven't said what they're covering up, but definitely there is no way that an intelligent person would consistently misinform people of what you are saying, unless there was something to cover up.
DB: If the proposed construction site is not technically "on" Uhuru Park, but is in fact on an adjoining plot which has been part of the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, then does this clause we discussed still remain a relevant argument?
WM: Yes, it's still a factor, because the buildings that were there-- the initial building was the Colonial Secretary's building-- could easily have been turned into small national museums or national monuments. And even if there was not this clause in the local government, that whole area has been known now as the park. And even if it had not been allocated, and that was the only land available, then the people of Nairobi would still be within their rights to say that that part of the land should not be interfered with. Even if it had been somebody's land, that is the time that the interests of the nation have to be put ahead, in my opinion, and you could reallocate whatever would be put there, so that the people could have the park. I think the principle of giving people open space at this time in our enviornmental consciousness should not be compromised. . . . Because there is no other area. If we were talking about a Nairobi which is just emerging-- which has very wide spaces, where we could say, "OK, we may not have Uhuru Park as a central park, but we have another park, say in the Eastlands," or suppose that all of Mathare Valley was a park. Then you could very well argue that "as a matter of fact, most people who use that park are in the Eastlands area, and they can go to that park instead." But there is no such thing.
DB: At what level is the boardroom debate currently taking shape?
WM: Now the boardroom debate I'm talking about is not only here in Kenya. This complex has raised many questions that I'm sure are being discussed by many different people. I think, for example about the lawyers, who should be concerned about the fact that here we have a legal system which does not make it possible for a Kenyan individual or a group of individuals to protect their interests when they are interfered with. But they have to rely on an attorney general, who as we have already seen, can refuse to represent the public. And in that case then the public is left without a voice.
I'm also thinking about the environmental lawyers who must see that it is very unfortunate that again we do not have strong environmental law in this country that would have put a stop to that immediately, the minute it arose.
DB: Are you working with any of these environmental lawyers now?
WM: Not yet, but I know that some lawyers are discussing this aspect of it. As to whether it will be included within our law, that may take some time, because remember that the implementers of the law is the government who are probably very happy that this law was not there this time! (Laughs)
I'm also thinking of the general public, the wananchi, who must feel very frustrated that there is nothing they can do to stop the encroachment on a park that they value. It is very frustrating, and they must be talking-- the funny thing about a society like ours is you may be a very small person, but you can be related to a very big person. And you give that big person your opinion, and the opinion being exchanged cuts across our social and our economic strata. So there must be a lot of people talking at home, wondering how such an impasse can be overcome. And with these people, you never know who is talking to who.
DB: For yourself, specifically for the sake of negotiations on this issue, have you been dealing with any government people, or Kenya Times Media Trust, to make headway or to discover possible obstacles to the construction?
WM: I think that for the moment, as far as the Kenyan government is concerned, it's very difficult to penetrate because they are all very defensive. There is a group of those who don't want to talk about it at all, because they don't want to tell you what they think. There are those who can only oppose, because that is the only stance they can take, and those are the vocal ones-- so you can't talk to those. But we are talking to other environmental groups and other environmental networks outside the country, trying to have them apply pressure-- that is definitely taking place. For example the Diamond Rivers Network,(ck name) based in San Francisco. I know they are doing something.
DB: What about the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), which is based here in Nairobi?
WM: UNEP cannot do very much, except that they belong to the diplomatic corp, who know what we are doing. To some of them we have written, for example to UNDP-- we wrote a lot of letters we did not release to the press, actually. . . we have written to enviornmental groups that we know support us like the Friends of the Earth in Britain and the Greens of Germany, and we are asking them to apply pressure to both Maxwell and to the financiers, who we understand are the Standard Bank of Britain. We've received copies of some letters that have been written, so we know that some action is being taken, and we know that when that action is taken, it doesn't stop there-- it is going-- so eventually the waves will come back here. At least we're hoping the waves will come back here (laughs).
DB: Going back to the time of your eviction from the offices you were allowed to use for some ten years. The first day we met was the day after your sudden eviction notice, and I found you in an almost deserted building. (She laughs). Now I find you and your staff crowded into your house here. Is your whole staff here?
WM: No what we have done is we have released some of our staff. We had to because we didn't have space and we just couldn't have them hanging around doing nothing. Then others have been sent into the field to try to calm down the groups and to encourage them to continue with their environmental work. I just have a few here who are helping with the construction (of a plywood and tin roofed "temporary shelter") and keeping the mail going.
The eviction itself was completely unnecessary. I don't think it would have made any difference if they had given us two weeks to move and appear decent, instead of appearing vindictive. It was harassment, competely unnecessary to me, because it gives the wrong impression about the system, and yet the system had allowed us to stay there for ten years. So after staying there for ten years with goodwill, why harass you in 24 hours? You ruin the goodwill that has been there, for nothing!
DB: One thing that stands out about you, in your public comments, is that it almost seems to reach the point of sarcasm in how nice you are to these people who are abusing you (Wangari laughs heartily). You always seem to be wishing them a happy new year or merry Christmas, or thanking them from the bottom of your heart, even as they are evicting you or cutting off your legal channels. . . Are you doing that just to show them how nice people can be to each other, or are you really--
WM: (Still laughing) --no, to a certain extent it is fair. I mean, I am not bitter (laughs again). I'm not bitter-- I know they are angry, but I would say they are angry because they are guilty. (Another good laugh). Under normal circumstances, there is no reason why you shouldn't wish another person Merry Christmas (laughs). I wanted them to know that they could have let me stay there, and move without harassing me and putting my things in the rain. Now you see things are all over, and the rain is falling like mad, and desks are being spoiled. Thanks to God I had a house-- I don't know where I would have put all these files, although I must say a lot of people, including yourself, told me I could come and put things in your garage, or in your bedroom (laughs again). But at the same time it would have been difficult for us moving things in different directions. So instead we have tried to concentrate on this (indicates the half-finished temporary structure, which two men are busy wheeling in loads of dirt). It would have been finished by now, but for the rains.
DB: Of all the accusations that have been made towards you, which has hurt the most? One would imagine that it was the labelling of the Green Belt movement as a "bogus," or even worse, a subversive organization.
WM: Actually to tell you the honest truth, none of the accusations they have levelled at me has disturbed me because all of them are lies. And all of them are directed at distracting me from the main issue, and all of them are directed at discrediting me in front of the public. So they haven't bothered me, because one, if the public was to believe what they say, that's their business. And two, if the public really supports me, and in many ways they do support me, I do not plant trees-- they plant trees. And they are the ones who tell me how many trees they have planted. So if the public has been lying, then the burden is on their conscience, not on me. I have paid for the seedlings that have been planted, and they run into the millions. We now have on record over ten million trees. So if there are lies, then it is the people who are lying, and that's a different problem which I alone cannot deal with-- it's a problem we have to deal with as a Kenyan society, because that means that we are saying that the Kenyan people tell lies-- they've been saying that they've been planting but they aren't.
DB: Do you think that's the case, that the trees haven't been planted?
WM: No, I believe that they have. I believe that there are certain situations where we have refused to pay-- you also heard the women (Maendeleo wa Wanawake's anti-Maathai protests) especially say that there are some women who have not been paid. Of course, there are people we don't pay because we believe they are lying, and they haven't planted. Or they say the trees have survived and they haven't. We only pay for the trees that survive. It is true that we do get certain reports that we ourselves don't believe. If we believed them all we would probably have three times the amount of trees on record.
But to say that the movement is bogus, they should have said that some years ago, because they have heard of the movement for ten years, they had every right to study it-- they should have!-- we are monitored-- we should have been!-- because we receive alot of money from abroad, and it's not the first time. So it's surprising that just because we have opposed their construction, we are not OK. But if I had stood up to say that I support the construction of the complex at Uhuru Park, they would probably have said, "that Green Belt Movement is the best organization on this land!"
DB: An accusation such as the one that was leveled by a parliamentarian, I believe it was Mr. Nabwera, which goes as far as saying that the Green Belt Movement is Pambana or Mwakenya (two notoriously anti-government movements)-- that's something that you could almost sue about, it's such a defamatory statement.
WM: Yeah, it is defamatory, but you must remember that he (Mr. Burudi Nabwera, the Minister of State in the Office of the President) knows he has no ground-- he's just mouthing. A lot of them just say things hoping that you'll get so angry that you will say things that they can now pick up on. They are provoking you, so you really have to control yourself (laughs), because you can get yourself into trouble just by reacting to what they're telling you. They're hoping you will slip. But I know that they know that we are not Pambana because if we are, they should have picked us up-- there is no reason why we should have operated for ten years against the government, and the government didn't know. What's wrong with this government! (Laughs) Its machinery is not working? Suddenly when we oppose an opinion they have expressed, now we become everything bad.
But that is also a typical reaction of the Kenyan politicians in recent years. Every time you oppose them, no matter what it is, you are called "anti-government." And that is a technique they use in order to silence you. You remember Mr. Nassir, the Assistant Minister (of Information) from Mombasa. He's an excellent example of what they do when they want to attack a person. He shouts, "You are anti-government, you are anti-president!" in the hope that you will be so scared, that you will definitely just apologize, and say "now let's shake hands!" and be like a mouse. I think it has been a very big surprise to them that we have kept coming. Because we have nothing to fear, nothing to be afraid of.
DB: Wasn't he the politician who, when there were demonstrations going on against Canada, who said that anybody who doesn't participate in the Mombasa demonstration would be labeled "anti-government?"
WM: Yes, "anti-government." Such ridiculous statements from leaders! I think it is important for people to get out of that, and let their leaders know that they cannot intimidate them to that extent, so that when you are doing absolutely nothing but what is allowed in the law, you are suddenly accused of being "anti-government." If we went beyond that, you could easily be killed for nothing. You could have those kind of people say, "everybody who is anti-government will be shot." And you could be shot for nothing!
DB: What do you think the social ramifications are of this trend in Kenyan politics?
WM: It's bad! It is very bad. It can lead to very bad oppression. Because you see, it is intimidating people so that they do not stand up for their rights, is very dangerous. Because you push them against the wall. Eventually they will react, as we have seen all over the world and in the course of history. But sometimes they react, and the damage done is terrible. Look at what is happening in Romania. That's a classic example of people who were oppressed for years, and finally they broke loose-- but at what cost?
DB: Recently however, a Dr. Njoya (PCEA clergyman Reverend Dr. Timothy Njoya) drew this same parallel, and was heavily criticized by the party who dismissed his statements as "madness."
WM: Well fortunately I don't think that for one moment he considered their statement, for he also knows that they are just bluffing. They are hoping he will be so scared-- after you are called "mad," surely, (laughs) just like me being told I have "something in the head." That is close to being mad, if not completely mad, because you usually don't go with things in your head!" (Laughs again).
DB: One of the things that really jumped out during this entire issue, and was certainly a turning point of sorts, was the president's statements during his Jamhuri Day speech at Uhuru Park on Dec. 12th, when he reprimanded you for not respecting men in true African tradition, and in fact he virtually wondered aloud why other women in the country weren't putting you back in your place. This in essence invited the criticism which followed from Maendeleo wa Wanawake, a very political women's organization which proceeded to hold a series of demonstrations and release some very aggressive statements against you and the Green Belt Movement.
WM: Even in the traditional society, the women did not keep quiet when the elders made their decisions-- at least not in the community I come from. The women were consulted, and in the community I come from, there were women who were considered "wise" women, and could be consulted, and who could actually be considered elders." And they were then addressed as elders, even though they were women. So I come from a community that respects good thinking and good judgment, regardless of the sex you come from. And so I don't have that complex. As for his (Moi's) statement, I feel I am within my right, both traditionally and within the modern society to express my opinion about a decision that has been made by elders. And I feel that I should be listened to-- I should not be abused. They could have decided to ignore my suggestions, but they don't have to abuse me, because that traditionally is also very unacceptable-- that a group of elders would undress a women publicly.
DB: So you feel it is sort of a "selective" evocation of tradition, just to suit the situation?
WM: Yes, that is what the African male, especially, has been doing for years now—every time it is convenient for him he resorts to African tradition. For example, an African man will say on one day, "It is good for me, I am a Christian, so I'm going to church and I'm going to be a monogamous man. But tomorrow, I may change my mind, and become traditional, and have several wives." They have been enjoying this double standard for a long time, and they have carried it in politics, in homes, in businesses, practically everywhere. And I think it will eventually play havoc with our society, because if nothing else, it confuses the young, who are looking up to the older generation for guidance, and they find contradictions like that-- they don't know what to think.
DB: You were most recently (at the time of this interview) under attack from Maendeleo wa Wanawake, a women's political organization. Did that hurt you as a woman, or did you look at it strictly from a political point of view, and not take it as if they were a women's organization?
WM: No, I didn't pay them any attention, I didn't even bother to respond to them, because for one thing they were not even responding out of their own personal feelings. They were invited to discipline me during the address of the 12th of December. And they didn't even know what I was arguing about, so instead of bringing out arguments in favor of the complex being constructed at Uhuru Park, they decided to hurl abuses at me. That is the only thing they could do. So I felt sorry for them in a way, because I thought that brought them very poorly in the eyes of the public.
You cannot be a leader now, and go around abusing other leaders in public. That is a behavior that is definitely not a part of leadership.
DB: How would you describe yourself now in regards to your role in society? Is it a political role? Or are you an environmentalist, and that's all? A women's leader or a human rights advocate?
WM: Well I think when you are in this kind of a situation you are everything to everybody. (Laughs) People will think you're speaking for them. Like now there are many people who are not environmentalists who are happy we are protecting the park, because they go to the park. As you saw in the papers they have expressed their support for what we are trying to do. So their interest is that they want an open space to which they can go. From that point of view, they can say, "that's one person who protects the parks."
To women, I may appear like one woman who definitely does not allow herself to be pushed down. They may feel encouraged, and they may try to see what in me makes that possible. For example, they may value education, saying "she wouldn't be able to do that if she wasn't an educated woman." They may value the economic independence, saying "you can't do that if you are not economically independent," because you can be thrown into the ditch. And in a way they may feel that it's unfortunate that I can do this, because I don't have a husband who can bully me, and who can be called by the other men, and be persuaded to discipline me. I'm quite sure if I had a husband, the call to the women would not have been made-- it would have been made to my husband. They would have challenged him, "what's wrong with you? Why can't you discipline this woman?" And I can't see any African man who would have stood there to watch me do what I have been doing, unless he had a more independent mind than I have.
DB: You say there isn't any African man who would support you in this?
WM: Not any African man that I would have been married to (laughs).
DB: Now is that your fault or theirs?
WM: (Still laughing) I think that's mine. I can't blame them! I think the role that I've been playing is more likely in this country to be played by a man who is supported by his wife, rather than by a women who is supported by her husband.
DB: Throughout this controversy, with very few exceptions, the headlines have been dominated by Prof. Wangari Maathai. We haven't seen many other prominent personalities speaking out publicly, other than the outspoken former MP for Butere, Mr. Martin Shikuku, who is no strange to controversy. Your lawyer, Mr. Obaka, wrote a very eloquent piece in the Weekly Review, but other than that, there has been virtually no momentum to create a real resistance force. Why do think this is the case?
WM: I think it is partly because people are afraid. They know that if you speak you become victimized, either in your job-- mostly in your job-- either you don't get favors that you think you might get, or you are denied favors that you already have. I think that is very conspicuous in people that are in government positions, especially. But I think it is difficult to judge people, because many people wrote letters to the papers, and their letters were not published. I understand that there were thousands of letters that were never published. The papers, too, they are afraid to go too far, so they were publishing about a letter a day. In the Standard, one day they published a whole page. And that, many people will tell you, is the first time that this society has reacted like that, because they normally are very apathetic and they don't join in what you are trying to do, either for or against.
The only thing that would have been a real test of how afraid people are to come into the open, would have been the demonstration, had it been allowed. We applied to the office of the provincial commissioner. We wrote many times, we went there every day, until we finally went to court. When we went to court we knew for sure they would never allow us (to hold the demonstration at Uhuru Park). The only thing I can say is that for the government to have refused the license (to demonstrate) it must have been that through their own listening they knew that we could have an embarrassing crowd at Uhuru Park. So I'm quite sure that the feeling I have that the people are behind it and they don't want it is definitely real. I observed on the 12th of December there was a record crowd there-- I'm sure many had gone there because of the controversy. And they were keen to hear what he might say. Because we had not been there (Uhuru Park) for a very long time. So people were curious as to why he wanted them to go there this time (for the Jamhuri Day address). And then during the last few holidays we have had, there have been record crowds at the park, and even on Sundays, when there is no holiday. So I think there is a lot of interest among the people, and although they don't say anything, it shows clearly that there is an interest, but they don't have a forum. And because of this fear, they don't say-- of course they should even act-- I feel that considering the situation in the country at the moment, the reason that the government is trying to intimidate me and victimize me, is that it cannot quite understand how I was able to galvanize such public support. Because they're listening, and that is the way the Kenyan government has been operating since it does not allow debate-- what it does is it gets its CID's and Special Branch to listen to what is really going on. And they pick up a lot in the matatus and the buses, in the bars.
DB: You mentioned the other day that on the surface things are now calm-- they've got you evicted, and the public debate is virtually over. Yet you said there was an "undercurrent" still at work.
WM: Well there is an undercurrent, because, like just yesterday-- and I'm writing another letter today-- one member of parliament "banned" me from going to his area of Mt. Elgon in Bugoma district. So I'm telling him-- "Well I thought this debate was over, but apparently we have to keep going!" Because I want to emphasize to them: they cannot "ban" anybody. That again is going back to that intimidation. We have a guarantee (in the constitution for free travel throughout the country)-- nobody can even dream of having that responsibility (to "ban" someone) and I want to hit that before it becomes a chorus.
DB: Is the Green Belt Movement working in that area?
WM: Yes, we are in about 22 districts throughout the country.
DB: In what way have your field people been harassed at the projects in the rural areas?
WM: What happens is that, there is this feeling again, that you must not oppose what the officials have said. And because I have persistently opposed, and because there is nothing they can accuse me of, they are now resorting to intimidating the groups, perhaps hoping that the groups would disband, and that the movement would stop operating. They have been going to the nurseries, and telling them that the movement has been banned-- and you know the groups in the rural areas don't know the difference between threats and actual-- and because the parliament had said we will be banned, or should be banned, some KANU Youthwingers have gone there and said, "haven't you heard? You've been banned," or "didn't you hear? Wangari has been arrested." And of course the women have no way of confirming, and that's why I had to issue this statement.
The talk, the debate, the Maendeleo demonstrations, the president's utterances-- these are words that sent waves across the country. And for the masses of the people who are uneducated, who don't read the paper for themselves, who listen to heresay-- it's very dangerous-- you can manipulate them. That of course is what the leaders like, that they can manipulate the people so easily.
DB: You say they're intimidating the field people because they can't do anything to you. Are you still of this mind?
WM: Well, they can do something to me of course-- the government has a lot of power. They can do anything. But there is no reason for them to-- I haven't broken any law. So unless they abuse their power, they shouldn't do anything to me. But they shouldn't do anything to the groups, either, because the groups have not even been involved in the debate. But they have been intimidating the groups, in exactly the same way they have been trying to intimidate me. The abuses, the insults, the attacks in public, the demonstrations by Maendeleo-- these are all intimidations, to me. It's just embarrassing to them, or maybe frustrating to them, that they don't seem to be having much impact on me. Because I know their gimmicks, and I'm not about to play their cards (laughs loudly).
PART 3: THE POLITICAL CLIMATE IN KENYA JUNE 10, 1990
"I think he (President Moi) is a weak man. I think he is a weak personality. He needs to be pampered, and as you say he needs these monuments . . . a friend of mine told me this story, and I have seen it proven time and time again. 'If you see a man who is willing to bootlick another man, he will have to be bootlicked.' (Laughs heartily). He sang to the tune-- now everybody else must sing to the tune. . . The good thing about it is, I think that he is not a sellout. I think he has moments of reflection. There are times he must reflect. In fact if he wasn't being pampered so much by people around him, he wouldn't make as many mistakes as he does."
DB: There's been a lot of discussion between us of the political trend in this country-- the lack of freedom of expression; the lack of a true democratic system where you can express your opninion without fear of--
WM: -- intimidation and abuse.
DB: In your mind, what events of the past few years, or longer, have contributed to this current political atmosphere?
WM: Personally, as one who has been here all that time, I find it very difficult that anybody has found it necessary to concentrate power in themselves. Because it didn't seem to me like there was any threat. But I think it is the temptation that is very common-- in Africa anyway, I don't know about other places-- but it has appeared to be very common in Africa, that leaders tend to concentrate power around themselves. Whom can we say in Africa has not concentrated power for himself? And that temptation, I should also say, is enhanced by the people themselves, because people do not seem to be significantly appreciative of the need for freedom-- the wonderful environment of being free and being able to do what you can do, what you want to, to say what you want to do. It is very easy for people in this country, I find, to be cowed. Maybe it's because they are poor, or maybe because they are very much after favors. People want favors, and in order to get favors, they are very willing to flatter. Flattering leadership starts very slowly, until it becomes the pattern-- that to get to the leader, and to get anything, any favors from the leaders, you have to flatter them. And so personally I think I have seen the gradual encouragement of this concentration of power by people. It's as if they want to say, "You're the only one-- nobody else says things they way you say. If I ever hear anybody trying to say that they could be president while you are president, I would rather die before." You know, I saw that. I saw people pampering the leader.
DB: Now is this the same thing that happened with Kenyatta, or is it a different set of circumstances?
WM: The same thing happened, but I think the difference was-- the other man (Kenyatta) was very confident. He knew he was in control. He didn't have to be told he was in control, he knew that. He therefore apparently did not need any more flattery. Or maybe he was just a strong personality. He had grown up from the very beginning-- he's a man who had seen the good things and the bad things. He had been in jail, had struggled, had known colleagues who had died struggling, and although he did not glorify them as much as some people would have liked to see him glorify, I think the experience of the struggle gave him a different personality.
DB: And he was known to have had a strong character even before the hardest part of the struggle came. . .
WM: Yeah, so maybe that is what made him resist. But people did definitely try.
DB: They say that near the end (of Kenyatta's life), he succumbed to a degree-- if anything because he was so old.
WM: Well I think he was just old then. But even then, if you listen to what people used to say, he used to tell them, "you better put your act together or you'll never be able to keep these things under control." And again, if the only thing they wanted to do was something illegal, he resisted. And I think in this case (today’s government) the parliamentarians do not seem to have the kind of freedom they had at that time, when they actually could go into parliament to decide whether or not they would change the constitution. Now they don't talk! But at least at that time they had the freedom to say "I would like to see it changed." And fortunately, although he was in favor of not changing it, (referring to the Change the Constitution Movement spearheaded by GEMA to prevent Moi from becoming president), he allowed free debate in parliament. And people knew they were talking because it was in the open -- people were talking about it. And now looking back, I have to give him credit, for not having allowed himself to be flattered till the end. He was looking beyond himself, with his people.
DB: On the other hand, the current president seems to be driven by political or personal insecurity-- hence the need to put up monuments in his honor and to be constantly revered.
WM: I think I would agree with you. I think he is a weak man. I think he is a weak personality. He needs to be pampered, and as you say he needs these monuments. And he needs to be. . he's a -- a friend of mine told me this story, and I have seen it proven time and time again. "If you see a man who is willing to bootlick another man, he will have to be bootlicked." (Laughs heartily). He sang to the tune-- now everybody else must sing to the tune. Perfect.
DB: Do you think this (political trend) is irreversible?
WM: No, it will reverse. The good thing about it is, I think that he (Moi) is not a sellout. I think he has moments of reflection. There are times he must reflect. In fact if he wasn't being pampered so much by people around him, he wouldn't make as many mistakes as he does. So I have a feeling that he will not go "wholesale." It is the people who can make him go wholesale. . . but I think maybe what has happened with this case, without really any plans… perhaps we have indicated that it is possible for people to say no.
I think I would have been scared had all the men in parliament done to me what Maendeleo did, or if all the branches of Maendeleo wa Wanawake did what a few branches did (demonstrations, alleged vandalism). Then I would really have known that this country has gone to the dogs, kabisa. But the way they reacted has given me a lot of courage, and a lot of hope for this country. I don't think it will go all the way down before people will stop. Because as I was telling you about the interview with Maendeleo wa Wanawake yesterday-- that interview pushed the chairman of Maendeleo to say that they are going to discipline whoever vandalized the Green Belt property. In other words they are admitting that what they did was stupid, yet they are the ones who called their own members to do that. Now they realize that was not the way to go. Why? Because other people refused to follow suit. And probably they have received comments (such as) "don't you have any other way of behaving? Do you have to stoop down to that level?" And that's good. It shows that society has a certain level, below which it will not go. I feel good about that.
DB: The place we visited today, called Kanyariri, seems a rather successful example of what the Green Belt Movement is doing in the field. Would you say that Kanyariri is a representative of most Green Belt nurseries?
WM: Yes, I would say most. This is an average size. There are a few which are bigger than that, and many which are smaller. Its present size represents the smaller ones-- but as I've told you, it has had better days.
DB: This is the place where President Moi once visited? Was that the first time he went to a Green Belt project?
WM: As far as I know-- I wasn't there that time myself. You see, the president, for some funny reason that I have never quite understood. . . (pauses for a long thought). . . I would have expected for him, at some time in the course of our work, to say that what the Green Belt Movement is doing is a very good job; it's exactly what I want to see happen-- I would therefore want to tell my ministry to support this group as much as possible. That is what I would have expected. But he never did. Instead, they started the Ministry of Environment, which they didn't have before. They started a presidential commission for reaforestation. They started the rural extension aforestation.
DB: So you're saying that Green Belt inspired all of that?
WM: Yeah, but instead of getting the credit, it's as if there was competition. They started tree nurseries. He (Moi) started himself a tree fund, and he got a lot of money. He started KANU tree nurseries. So he has been trying to do exactly what we are trying to do, but ignored us completely. So I knew there was something that makes him not recognize the Green Belt Movement. For me, it doesn't matter. But for the groups that work with us (in the field), of course they want to hear their president praise what they are doing. Because he is telling them, "plant trees," and they are planting. Of course they want to hear him say, "You women are doing a good job." They have never praised us, never given us a thing. In fact, even those offices we had, we were not directly given by the government. Those were during the days of Kenyatta-- NGO's were given government offices to operate it. That's one thing-- you could walk to a ministry which is related to your work and say "I need an office,” or you could say, "I need a grant," and you'd be given, especially through (the Ministry of) Culture and Social Services.
DB: So what is your theory on why you've been historically ignored?
WM: I think there has been-- now I can say, but before I was hesitant because I wasn't sure-- but now I think that beyond a reasonable doubt there has been a certain amount of jealousy. And we have been seen as-- let me put it this way. When we first started, I don't think any of them knew that the environment issue was going to be the issue of the `80's, and probably beyond, because we are now dealing with issues that are very different than the issues we dealt with in the `60's. So I was ahead of them in seeing the environment as being an issue. When I left the university I felt very comfortable concentrating on environmental issues, because I said "this is a big issue-- I want to get involved in this, and I don't want to teach anymore." So by the time they realized the importance of the environmental issue, not only nationally but internationally, I was already known both locally and outside. And I think that gave him reasons to be a bit jealous, because he doesn't want to have anybody doing anything that he's not involved in. A person craving for recognition, who feels inadequate, wants all the credit.
DB: Do you think that your divorce case, and the publicity it generated, has anything to do with the way you've been treated by the politicians throughout this Times Complex controversy? You're a very strong personality, whether a man or a woman, and I could understand how some of the men in this country might feel some resentment.
WM: Well see I didn't have anything to do with him (Moi). The only man who should really be unhappy with me is the one who was married to me, because he's the one who had to deal with me. The only thing I have suspected that my divorce case could have done, is that for him (Moi) being a divorced man-- having divorced his wife under very secretive situations-- and probably a situation which is a skeleton that he prefers nobody discovers, but knows everybody knows about it-- probably a woman like me is a constant reminder.
DB: Is that just a theory or do you really think there's something to that?
WM: It's my theory. I just try to see why this man can't stand me! (laughs)
DB: Maybe he's in love with you.
WM: (Laughing ironically) Love-hate relationship! Maybe I should tell him, come on! (laughing as she speaks) You and I have got a common problem!