The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience

Wangari Muta Maathai, Author
Wangari Muta Maathai, Author Lantern Books $16 (117p) ISBN 978-1-59056-040-2
Reviewed on: 04/01/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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In October 2004, environmental activist Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor that has sparked the publication of this expanded edition of her slim treatise, first published in 1985 and then revised in 2003. As founder of Kenya's Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that encourages tree planting and other environmental initiatives, Maathai clashed often with the former Kenyan government but, in 2002, she was elected to the country's Parliament and became assistant minister for the environment. This book begins with a dry account of the Green Belt Movement's 20-year history, which has been filled with setbacks and successes that are undoubtedly fascinating, but Maathai hurries by them with bland, cut-and-dry statements (""Unfortunately, very few people responded""; ""Save the Land Harambee began to spread quickly""). The second half of the book reads like an extended grant proposal, enumerating goals and projects, explaining why ideas are worthwhile and outlining step-by-step processes that similar groups can follow. Many sections are little more than laundry lists of activities and achievements that barely hint at the group's struggles against countless obstacles, particularly corruption and indifference. The material added to this edition seems slight: the Nobel committee's statement on Maathai, her acceptance speech, a new preface and an interview she did with the Worldwatch Institute, where at last some of her passion shines through. Many Westerners didn't recognize Maathai's name when she won the Nobel and, while this description of the Green Belt Movement's admirable past is enlightening, it reads like a presentation Maathai might make to potential donors.
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