Nairobi, Kenya, 28 August 2023 – The Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry who was representing the President formally opened the Wangari Maathai Institute (WMI) for Peace and Environmental Studies at Upper Kabete Campus, the University of Nairobi.
Located on 50 acres of beautifully landscaped land within the University of Nairobi, the Institute will forge regional and international partnerships and create a center of excellence for academic enquiry into sustainable management of natural resources and community adaptation practices to climate change. Construction of the WMI campus was commissioned in August 2016 and officially handed over to the University of Nairobi after on May 6, 2019 by the Government of Kenya to institutionalize the great works and ideas of Prof. Wangari Maathai. The core purpose of WMI is to spearhead holistic multi-disciplinary research, training and community empowerment and outreach services.
In her official statement at the ceremony, Hon. Soipan Tuya lauded the foresight of Prof. Wangari Maathai in laying the building blocks of combatting climate change through nature-based approaches, especially the formation of women and youth-led grass-roots movement aimed at countering the deforestation that was threatening the means of subsistence of the agricultural population.
“ I am excited to officially open the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI) to immortalize the vision of a Kenyan heroine whose life impacted Africa and the world. Her unbowed stand and spirited campaign for social Justice, democracy, and environmental conservation remain the guidepost for the Government of Kenya and Africa’s call for urgent global climate investment through collective action. As the Africa Climate Summit kicks off this week, it is my expectation that we will “rise up and walk” by planting more than multibillion trees of hope for Africa’s food security, green energy transition, and for women and youth jobs. We can no longer delay in scaling the critically needed funding for Africa’s climate mitigation and adaptation acceleration plans.”
Hon. Soipan Tuya highlighted the inspiration she draws from the late Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wangari Maathai, ‘Prof. Maathai overcame political obstacles, she focussed on empowering the livelihoods of women and young people in the village and she paralleled that to the Ministry’s efforts on empowering livelihoods of women and the young people in the village by planting of 15Bn trees by 2032, employing 4000 green army and slowly increasing the number to 100,000 young people to fulfil this goal.
The Chancellor, Dr. Mrs. Vijoo Ratansi noted that, ‘The Late Prof. Wangari Maathai holds a special place in our hearts; first and foremost, as our member and secondly and perhaps more importantly, for the obstacles that she overcame, whether personally or politicly, to secure her place in our nations’ history as an agent of change. We all remember that she was the first African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. Her unwavering conviction on the nexus between environmental degradation and poverty and conflict made way for her timeless contribution to the cause of environmental conservation. Many years before talk on climate change became fashionable, the late Prof. Wangari Maathai had cut herself out as a significant contributor in caring for the environment and thereby, mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.’
Speaking at the event, the acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Prof. Julius Ogeng’o said, “The University of Nairobi is grateful for the Government’s commitment to institutionalize the legacy of Prof Wangari Mathaai and foster the positive ethics, values and practices that defined her life. This goes beyond planting trees to nurturing them and funding their care. This is the essence of our mission at the WMI. By promoting the planting of trees in the fields and in the minds of young people through holistic education, we are preparing them to embrace the connectedness of environmental conservation and climate action for responsible leadership for tomorrow.”
Professor Patrick Verkooijen, the Distinguished Chair of The Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Center on Adaptation, said, “The legendary vision of Prof Wangari Mathaai remains evergreen today as in 2004 when she won the Nobel Prize. The worsening impacts of drought and other climate risks are exacerbating water shocks, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of populations, and destabilizing communities, countries and the entire region. At the WMI, we are working with the affected counties, communities, and development partners to galvanize climate-resilient, and gender-oriented locally-led initiatives, through the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Programme – AAAP, to promote food security, youth jobs, and unlock innovative financing for sustainable climate action.”
While he moved a vote of thanks, the Chair of Council, Prof. Amukowa Anangwe said, ‘As we inaugurate this institute, we must reflect on the special attributes of Wangari Maathai that should be emulated by young people of today. Her unwavering determination, resilience, and ability to effect change against all odds are qualities that should inspire us all.Wangari taught us that even small actions can make a profound difference, as she famously said, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness.”
Prof. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was also the first female scholar from East and Central Africa to take a doctorate (in biology), and the first female professor ever in her home country of Kenya. Maathai’s mobilisation of African women was not limited in its vision to work for sustainable development; she saw tree-planting in a broader perspective which included democracy, women’s rights, and international solidarity. In the words of the Nobel Committee: “She thinks globally and acts locally.”
The WMI enables an innovative fusion of university research and traditional training in an atmosphere that provides a perfect blend of academic resources and experiential learning opportunities, community mentoring, and the utilization of indigenous knowledge.