When, in 1989, Daniel arap Moi's KANU government attempted to build a 62-story skyscraper in Uhuru Park, Nairobi main green-space, Wangari Maathai venomously opposed it. She used her connections to convince the World Bank and others that it was environmentally unsound. (The US ambassador to Kenya publicly criticized the project.) The government dubbed Maathai a 'crazy woman' and suggested that if she was so in league with environmentalist in the west, she should go and live there instead. The Green Blet Movement lost it's offices under government pressure, and she relocated to run it from home. An injunction in the Kenyan High Courts brought by the Green Belt Movement against the development failed, and ground was broken in preparation. But in the end international opprobrium led to the project being canceled.
In 1991 was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in the US and received $100,000 for the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger (Hunger Project).
It was revealed in early 1992 that Wangari Maathai's name was on an assassination list, and that there might be a coup attempt against Arap Moi. When the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) called for an election its members were arrested. Maathai managed to avoid arrest for several days, holding up in her house. She was charged with sedition and treason. The charges were dropped after international pressure. The following month Maathai took part in a hunger strike in Uhuru Park for the release of political prisoners, she was one of four hospitalized when the police broke it up. She also had to get special dispensation to leave the country to attend the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
In 1992, when multi-party election were to be held, Maathai resisted calls for her to run for MP. She believed that the political structures were too fragmented to achieve a result against arap Moi's KANU party. FORD had split in two, and the vice-president, Mwai Kibaki, had left KANU to form the Democratic Party. In '93, under increasing oppression Maathai went into hiding. It took international pressure on President arap Moi to allow her to attend the Tokyo summit of Green Cross International. She was too late to attend in the end, but took the opportunity to travel to the UK and US, and attend the Vienna UN World Conference on Human Rights.
When national elections came round again in 1997, Wangari Maathai announced that she would run. Government dirty tricks played again, and on the day of the election the press printed that she had withdrawn and was endorsing another candidate. She had not, but as a result got few votes. The next year the Green Belt Movement found out that the government was intending to sell off large swathes of the Karurua Forest to developers (including a golf course). Maathai and others were attacked as they protested, but the police refused to take action. A secret video of the demonstration and attack had been filmed and got international coverage. After a year of protests, President Daniel arap Moi announced a moratorium on the sale of public land.
A similar protest over a proposed land grab in 2001 resulted in Maathai being arrested. She was freed without charge, but it happened twice more. At the beginning of 2002 she left Kenya to teach at Yale University School for Forestry and Environmental studies for six months.
On her return to Kenya, Maathai stood once again for parliament. Running for the National Rainbow Coalition she received 97% of the vote in her constituency. In January 2003 she became Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environmental, Natural Resources and Wildlife in President Mwai Kibaki's government. Maathai was a minister until 2005, but lost her seat after a single term. She ended up politically sidelined because she refused to keep silent and toe the government line.
Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was commended by the Nobel committee for her "holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights, and women's rights in particular" and that her "unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression -- nationally and internationally."
"I hope it will encourage [women] to raise their voices and take more space for leadership." (Wangari Maathai's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.)
In 2007 she published her autobiography Unbowed. A third book followed in 2009, The Challenge for Africa, in which she criticized Africa's leadership as ineffectual, and urged Africans to solve their problems without Western assistance.
During her last year Maathai was in and out of hospital, something she managed to keep from the media until a week before her death. Wangari Muta Maathai died in Nairobi Hospital undergoing treatment for cancer on 25 September 2011, at the age of 71. She is survived by her three children and a granddaughter.
Wangari Maathai and Jason Bock, The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience, Environment Liaison Centre International, 1988. (Revised edition, pub. Lantern Books, 2004, ISBN-13 9781590560402.)
Wangari Maathai, Unbowed: One Woman's Story Heinemann, 2007, ISBN-13 9780434015429
Wangari Maathai, The Challenge for Africa, Heinemann, 2009, ISBN-13 9780434019809
Wangari Maathai, Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World, Doubleday Religion, 2010, ISBN-13 9780307591142