Maathai, Kenya's deputy environment minister, is the first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize in any category since the awards were first handed out in 1901. She gained recent acclaim for a campaign planting 30 million trees to stave off deforestation.
Maathai, 64, learned about the award, which includes $1.3 million, while campaigning to protect forests and distributing food to hungry constituents suffering from drought near her hometown of Nyeri in central Kenya. ...
In her first speech after winning the award, she spoke in her native Kikuyu language to an audience of 200 people, mostly poor women who had gathered to collect government food aid.
"Don't farm in forests ... because we will lose our forests," she said. "We have been given the responsibility of caring for future generations, and the younger ones, so that they may have water."
This is the first time the peace prize has recognized environmental work. What makes Matthai so worthy of the honor is that she sees the connection between saving the planet and preventing war. "Many of the wars in Africa are fought over natural resources," she told The Associated Press. "Ensuring they are not destroyed is a way of ensuring there is no conflict."
Former US President Jimmy Carter, who won the award in 2002, hailed the selection of Matthai: "I have known her for many years as a heroine in Kenya and throughout Africa," he said in an e-mail to the AP. "She has fought courageously to protect the environment and human rights, in the face of severe governmental pressures to silence her often lonely voice."
It appears the Nobel committee has made a wise and honorable selection. The prize will be awarded officially on Dec. 10 in Oslo, Norway.
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