Wangari Maathai’s last wishes

Prof Wangari Maathai did not wish to be buried in a wooden coffin.

She thought, with the high rate of death from Aids, an alternative to the traditional coffin was needed in order to protect forests.

And the Nobel Peace laureate had prepared for a smooth transition at her beloved Green Belt Movement, the organisation she set up to champion her passion for environmental conservation.

Prof Vertistine Mbaya, the treasurer of the Green Belt Movement’s board, told the Nation that Prof Maathai had led the organisation in approving a new constitution expanding the membership of the board and set in motion the process of bringing in a new chairperson.

In starting those changes, Prof Maathai wanted the management of the movement and that of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies based at the University of Nairobi to work closely together.

Prof Maathai, a courageous environmentalist to the point of getting on the nerves of former President Moi, had proposed a ban on wooden coffins arguing that their continued use was a danger to the already endangered forests. (SEE IN PICTURES: Wangari Maathai)

The family and members of the Green Belt Movement said they were looking for an alternative to a wooden casket.

Prof Maathai openly declared her wish not to be buried in a wooden coffin soon after she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. And she is likely to be granted her wish to remain green to the grave.

“She was one of those who did say that we better think of something else besides cutting down trees for caskets,” said Prof Mbaya.

“We are thinking about that. We will try to circumvent using a wooden coffin. That is one of the reasons that we are not ready yet to inform you how she will actually be interred. But we are thinking about that.”

However, she said they were not aware if she had included it in her will.

“I am not aware (of a will on how she wanted to be interred) right now. The family will make it known to us too,” said Prof Mbaya.

She spoke as tributes continued to stream in from all corners of the world. The Norwegian government and the Norwegian Nobel Committee condoled with the family.

The messages were delivered by the Norwegian Ambassador to Kenya Per Ludvig Magnus, who addressed a joint news conference with Prof Mbaya at Green Belt offices.

“Some said she only planted trees. How could she get the Nobel Peace Prize for planting trees? True, Wangari Maathai planted trees, millions of trees, to prevent the spread of the desert and to strengthen the environment.

“Planting trees was also one way for her to combat the country’s dictatorship,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in their message.

Prof Maathai, 71, died on Sunday night at the Nairobi Hospital. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July last year. (READ: Wangari Maathai dies in Nairobi)

She is survived by her three children—Waweru, Wanjira, and Muta, and her granddaughter, Ruth Wangari.

Prof Maathai will be remembered for her courage and tenacity in seeking social justice, conservation, democracy and in fighting corruption.

She paid a heavy price for her courage that comprised of repeated beatings, incarceration, harassment, and public vilification by the Moi regime.

Several activities have been lined up to honour the fallen icon. There will be daily prayers at St Andrews PCEA Church in Nairobi starting at 5.30 pm until she is buried.

The Green Belt Movement has organized a special musical tribute on Friday at the same venue. Prof Mbaya condolence books have been opened at various places, including district offices, the Freedom Corner, Kencom bus station and the University of Nairobi’s Lower Kabete and Main Campuses.

Meanwhile, the government will meet her family to make burial plans.