Kenya says goodbye to Wangari Maathai
Nairobi - Kenya on Saturday bade farewell to the late environmentalist and Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai at a state funeral held in a public Nairobi park she saved from destruction.
Maathai in 2004 became the first African woman to be awarded the peace prize for taking "a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular."
The staunch conservationist died of ovarian cancer on September 25. Her remains, carried in a coffin made of hyacinth fibre and bamboo frames, were to be cremated later on Saturday.
"Besides being a woman of great courage and tenacity, the late professor Maathai demonstrated, by example, the virtues of selfless service to the nation," President Mwai Kibaki said.
Her coffin, draped in the Kenyan flag, was driven in a black hearse to the Uhuru Park (Freedom Park in Swahili) where hundreds of mourners and dignitaries gathered for the funeral.
Maathai's three children and a granddaughter planted a tree at the park which she famously fought to save from plans by the authoritarian regime of former president Daniel Arap Moi to construct a 60-storey skyscraper.
"The best way to honour her is to carry on the great work she started, especially in the fields of environmental conservation, social justice, human rights and democracy," Kibaki added.
The first woman in east and central Africa to earn a doctorate, Maathai became a key figure in Kenya since founding the Green Belt Movement in 1977, staunchly campaigning for environmental conservation and democracy.
She also joined forces with movements that pressed for political freedom and democracy during Moi's single-party rule.
Broadly smiling in photos, Maathai was one of few Kenyan women to invariably don traditional African dress of colourful wax fabric.
Her family said she was to be cremated in accordance with her will because she opposed cutting down trees to make a coffin.