Mathaai: A Global
Voice Of Fortitude
By Farah Aziz
24 March, 2007
21st 07 . It had been a hectic day for her, her first day in India,
but Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel peace
prize, will not undermine any of her priorities. Invited to India by
Rajiv Gandhi foundation and Indian council for cultural relations to
deliver lectures on linkages between environment, governance and peace,
Wangari has little more to say. At Navdanya, she opens up a bit more.
Beginning with biodiversity and the coexistence of natural varieties
of seeds, she soon progresses into a wider arena of diversity and peaceful
coexistence people on earth.
"Our earth is a given
territory, it can not be furthered, auxiliary stations can't be created
to accommodate the growing masses. The only tonic is harmony, and coexistence.
We are given with limited resources and we all have to share it and
manage responsibly and accountably. Power equations have not to engulf
the share of the minority. We can't live in a world where some are very
rich and the others are very poor and remain despondent. There has to
be a system where the voices of the minority are listened. Equal distribution
of resources is indispensable; otherwise we will be in hands with numerous
conflicts that we are actually facing in the present world. There is
a constant rise in demand and so newer conflicts of interest are evident.
We have fights on land, water, oil, minerals, seed, fruit, and even
micro organisms", says Wangari.
Coming back to biodiversity
and the contemporary fight for the patenting of seeds, as well as the
right of India to protest the production of Genetically Modified crops,
she says that seed is one of the most important resources we have, because
we all need to eat, and that India has a glorious history of an age
old civilization when various seeds were developed by the ancient farmers,
and then it is totally unacceptable that some external body comes and
decides to change the complete system and dominate.
According to Wangari, it
is sheer encroachment and the violation of human rights, what Monasanto
has tried to propagate in India. "He has no right to decide what
India will produce and what the masses will consume. This dominance
has to end", says Wangari.
Wangari further dismisses
the corporates as 'mere profiteers'. "Corporates act on the impulse
of demand. This they do by first creating false demands, and once they
succeed, they get the product patented and earn windfall profits. This
is what Monsanto wanted in Canada, and here in India, too. Its time
now that we demand for an international law to preserve natural seeds.
There are some countries like Italy who already have formulated laws
banning the production of GMO seeds so that the sovereignty of choice
of the people is respected", she furthers.
Coming a step further on
privatization and patenting of seeds, Wangari envisions that private
appropriation of seeds will spell hunger and that companies control
resources through patents, the moment this control will be complete,
the ones who will not be able to pay the falsely appreciated private
prices will die.
When asked about her views
on the controversy over SEZs in India, Mathai sited the example of her
own nation where chronic underdevelopment sometimes forces the government
to experiment all sorts of extortive policies. According to Mathai,
there is only a thin line between development and destruction and when
development is conferred to the private hands, exploitation generates
and development becomes the prime mode of exploitative profit generation.
"Sometimes governments have to make tough decisions for the sake
of development which are often expedient on alternate parties, because
ofcourse there are conflicts of interests, but the same government endlessly
fails to take a tough decision in the favour of the poor, because they
are vulnerable and their voices can easily be oppressed", she adds.
Drawing attention to the
common problems that the developing countries are facing, Wangari expresses
that to be able to exist is the major test for all the developing countries
today. "Globalization has marketised the world, cut throat competitions
prevail, powerful are fighting to emerge as the super powers and there
is likelihood that the poor and the weak will be wiped away. To stand
somewhere in the market, poor nations are compelled to depend on the
developed ones for technological assistance. This makes them all the
more vulnerable to be controlled. They face economic exploitation, sanctions
in research and military power, and in capacity to access and control
resources. Their week economic structure doesn't allow them to break
away from this dependence, and the vicious circle of poverty, of widening
income disparities continues. Rich get richer and poor get poorer,"
she takes a sigh.
She takes a sigh, but it
was not a defeated one. Wangari believes in the strength of togetherness
and doesn't agree that the dismal situation of economic exploitation
and increasing income disparities is eternal. Her own life has been
full of struggles and successes. It was while she served in the National
Council of Women that she introduced the idea of planting trees with
the people in 1976 and continued to develop it into a broad-based, grassroots
organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups
in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life.
However, through the Green Belt Movement she has assisted women in planting
more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church
compounds. In 1986, the Movement established a Pan African Green Belt
Network and has exposed over 40 individuals from other African countries
to the approach. Some of these individuals have established similar
tree planting initiatives in their own countries or they use some of
the Green Belt Movement methods to improve their efforts. So far some
countries have successfully launched such initiatives in Africa ( Tanzania,
Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, etc). In September 1998,
she launched a campaign of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. She has embarked
on new challenges, playing a leading global role as a co-chair of the
Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, which seeks cancellation of the unpayable
backlog debts of the poor countries in Africa by the year 2000. Her
campaign against land grabbing and rapacious allocation of forests land
has caught the limelight in the recent past.
Wangari Maathai is internationally
recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and
environmental conservation. She has addressed the UN on several occasions
and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly
for the five-year review of the earth summit. She served on the commission
for Global Governance and Commission on the Future. She and the Green
Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably The 2004 Nobel
Peace Prize. Others include The Sophie Prize (2004), The Petra Kelly
Prize for Environment (2004), The Conservation Scientist Award (2004),
J. Sterling Morton Award (2004), WANGO Environment Award (2003), Outstanding
Vision and Commitment Award (2002), Excellence Award from the Kenyan
Community Abroad (2001), Golden Ark Award (1994), Juliet Hollister Award
(2001), Jane Adams Leadership Award (1993), Edinburgh Medal (1993),
The Hunger Project's Africa Prize for Leadership (1991), Goldman Environmental
Prize (1991), the Woman of the World (1989), Windstar Award for the
Environment (1988), Better World Society Award (1986), Right Livelihood
Award (1984) and the Woman of the Year Award (1983).
For women, Wangari says "I
am also a women, a black woman, and I don't think that any body could
ever control and determine my ways". "Globalisation has an
inherent dent of marginalisation of the incompetent, and so it can marginalise
women too, if they fall easy prey. It's now our only job to explore
more inside ourselves and get it patented for ourselves", she cheers.
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