How the bulldozer is no match for little hummingbird

Prof. Wangari Maathai assisted by good samaritans after severe beatings by police during protests at Uhuru Park, Nairobi in March 1992 [Courtesy]

One of the world’s greatest military strategists, Napoleon Bonaparte, declared that the word impossible exists only in the dictionary of fools.

Though a scientist and human rights activist, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai strongly ascribed to this school of thought.

Armed with determination and charm, Maathai could bring down walls and stop bulldozers, not by cannon fire, but by her sheer will.

Today, the tractors that roar along Uhuru Highway tearing up part of Uhuru Park that she fought so hard to save evokes memories of her epic battles especially in this month of July which, 30 years ago, signified the dawn of a new struggle for the second liberation.

Nobody captures Maathai’s resilient spirit better than Mohinder Dhillon, the veteran cameraman and filmmaker in his book, ‘My Camera My Life’.

On July 15, 1985, during the United Nations’ Decade for Women at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, Maathai, who was one of the keynote speakers, made an outrageous proposal.

She wanted Dhillon, who was at the function working for an international media, to make a “little film” for her in three days. The film Maathai wanted was to be showed during the conference and it was to be about the activities of Green Belt. At the time, Green Belt Movement was still young and was headquartered, in the words of Dhillon, in tin shacks around Globe Cinema roundabout, which had been constructed in 1947.

The film maker tried to impress upon Maathai that it was impossible to make any film in three days, but the environmentalist persisted. At the time she did not even have money to pay for the film.

So infectious was her optimism that Dhillon finally looked for a friend, Sharad Shankardass, who ultimately made the film, Naked Earth, which so wowed the audiences during and after the conference that it catapulted Maathai’s fame and that of her movement.

Perhaps it is this determination that drove her to fight for Karura forest and Uhuru Park, a task many Kenyans at the time considered suicidal.

Although she has been dead for 10 years, like a hummingbird, her little actions continue to cover patches of the naked earth. Her former headquarters is now vibrant with flora and fauna, although parts of Uhuru Park has been undressed.