Telephone interview with Professor Wangari Maathai, by freelance journalist Marika Griehsel, after the announcement of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, 8 October 2004.
The interview was difficult to transcribe due to technical problems. Our apologies.
– Hello, Professor Wangari?
– Yes, how are you? I am here in Nairobi celebrating like crazy.
– We are so happy to congratulate you here from Stockholm. My name is Marika Griehsel and I am calling from the website of The Nobel Foundation.
– A few hours have passed since you got the message. How do you feel today?
– I’m still trying to believe it is true, it is me, it is real. For it’s a lot of emotions to process.
– What are the strongest emotions for you personally at the moment?
– Just the thought of our being recognized as …, having made that impact on The Nobel Committee, the fact that the Committee was able to see that what is important for us in the world is not only to bring peace … but also to … And for them to recognize that the fight over natural resources are usually the source of conflict.
– Looking at the role of African women in trying to build peace and a sustainable future, in which way will this prize impact their future role on the continent?
– Well, I’m sure that many people who are involved in an environmental effort … they will be pretty much encouraged by this recognition, and they will realize that what they’re doing is extremely important, and I’m sure it is not only here in Africa, but also throughout the world. We have received the congratulations from practically every place of the world.
– As you know, there is often a male structure that is in power in many African countries. And not just in Africa, but if we look at Africa …
–”Male”? Are you talking about ”male”?
– Are you saying, ”male”?
– Yes, ”male.” Hmm.
– Yes. Ask again.
– Do you think this prize can influence them to understand the role of the women clearer?
– I’m quite sure that, with this kind of a prize, a lot of prejudices against women are automatically removed. I can say without exaggeration that everybody in this country, and I’m sure many people in Africa are extremely happy, and are associating themselves with the prize – both men and women. And I’m sure that, at such a time, men appreciate the role that women can play. I know that, for many men in this country, they’re very proud. And they associate themselves with what the women have been doing. And this is something that I had already seen in the work that many men associate themselves. So, I think that, at a certain level, when women are dealing too with real issues, and when those issues are recognized, that there is no longer the gender bias, and that both men and the women converge in their appreciation.
– If I may ask you, which issues do you see as the most pressing issues to work on, from your point of view?
– Well, the issue of environment in Africa. And the issue of good governance are issues that are still needing a lot of work in this continent. And therefore I will continue to work in this work. And I know that this prize has given me a special responsibility as spokesperson, not only here in Kenya, but in the whole of Africa. And there is plenty to be done.
– I just want to ask you – you have taken huge personal risks in your fight for justice, and human rights, and environment. What is necessary to be able to be brave like you? Will you recommend people to take the same kind of risks as you have taken?
– Well, I presume that people react to the challenges that face them in their countries and in their regions, and quite often people know the best way to approach those challenges. But, everywhere in the world, people have faced those challenges, and they have stood up, and they have taken a lot of risk for what they believed in. People like Martin Luther King, who was honored by the same Nobel Peace Prize, people like Mandela, Nelson Mandela, people like Bishop Tutu, when he was fighting apartheid in South Africa.
– We have a bad line. But I would like to ask you, do you see a role for yourself in the present crisis in Darfur, in Sudan? And other conflicts in Africa?
– Well, I have not been involved. And it’s only yesterday that I became a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But I’m quite sure that it will be some of the – this will be some of the roles that we shall be expected to provide leadership in.
– Another huge demand and crisis for Africa and the world is the HIV and AIDS epidemic. In which way do you think we can work together to solve that crisis?
– Well, the first and most important thing has been to educate Africans about the disease, so that they address it from a point of information, rather than from a point of ignorance and fear. And the other is to provide medicine for those who are unfortunate enough to be infected. And probably, the third is to address the issue of poverty, which is one cause of – not infection – but rather the cause of death. Because many Africans in their poverty, they do not have adequate immune system, and therefore, when they are infected they succumb to the virus very quickly.
– I would like to thank you very much Professor for having talked to us. How will you spend the rest of the weekend? I believe there is a meeting of environmental ministers that are teaming up in Kenya over the next couple of days.
– Yes, in fact on Monday there is a meeting of environment ministers at UN. And I shall be there … and so I shall be very busy celebrating and sharing this wonderful recognition. I would like to tell you that this country is on fire. They are celebrating very hard, from the presidents even down to the children in the rural areas. Everybody feels very very honored. It is not my own prize, but a recognition for the entire country. And I’m told the whole of Africa is celebrating.
– Thank you very much Professor Wangari Maathai. And we will be looking forward to see you here in the Nordic countries in the next couple of months. Thank you very much.
– I wanted to say, if I may, would you please extend my deep appreciation to the people of Norway and the Nobel Committee.
– Certainly, I will be very happy to relay this interview on to the home page and thank you so much Professor. And we are so proud. Thank you.