In the late 1980s Maathai led a courageous fight against the construction of a skyscraper scheduled for construction in the middle of Uhuru park, Nairobi’s most important public space. Her vocal opposition to the location of the proposed complex led the government of President Daniel Arap Moi to label both Maathai and the Green Belt Movement “subversive.” She was vilified in Parliament and in the press and forced to vacate her office of 10years with 24 hours’ notice. Nevertheless, thanks to Maathai’s opposition, foreign investors withdrew their support for the Uhuru Park complex and the project was canceled.
Maathai evolved from Kenya’s most visible political dissident to one of Africa’s leading environmentalists. Her willingness to speak out on critical social matters has on various occasions provoked the police to break into her home, place her under arrest, club her into unconsciousness and otherwise discourage her from engaging in political activity.
Always a pioneer, in 1997 Maathai decided to run for the Kenyan presidency against the entrenched incumbent. However, because of a false, widely distributed report that Maathai had withdrawn from the presidential race, she received a negligible number of votes. Despite this tremendous disappointment, Maathai continued to try to reform the political process so that government addressed the concerns of ordinary Kenyans.
Read about her 2004 Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Foundation announcement
In 2007, Time Magazine named Maathai one of their “Heroes of the Environment.”