Professor Maathai’s commitment to a democratic Kenya never faltered. In December 2002, in the first free-and-fair elections in her country for a generation, she was elected as Member of Parliament for Tetu, a constituency close to where she grew up. In 2003 President Mwai Kibaki appointed her Deputy Minister for the Environment in the new government. Professor Maathai brought GBM’s strategy of grassroots empowerment and commitment to participatory, transparent governance to the Ministry of Environment and the management of Tetu’s constituency development fund (CDF). As an MP, she emphasized: reforestation, forest protection, and the restoration of degraded land; education initiatives, including scholarships for those orphaned by HIV/AIDS; and expanded access to voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) as well as improved nutrition for those living with HIV/AIDS.
In the violence that followed the contested 2007 Kenyan elections, Professor Maathai served as a mediator and a critical voice for peace, accountability, and justice. In addition, she and GBM were instrumental in ensuring that the new Kenyan constitution, ratified by a public vote in 2010, included the right of all citizens to a clean and healthy environment, and that the constitution’s drafting was truly consultative.
In 2004 Professor Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for sustainable development, democracy, and peace—the first African woman and the first environmentalist to receive this honor. In announcing the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that Professor Maathai “stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa.” It praised the “holistic approach” of her work and called her “a strong voice speaking for the best forces in Africa to promote peace and good living conditions on that continent.”
In 2006 Professor Maathai co-founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with five of her fellow women peace laureates to advocate for justice, equality, and peace worldwide.