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The main goal Wangari Maathai wants to accomplish in Unbowed is to use it as a platform to raise awareness that the planet is overwhelmed by careless, corrupt, or violent leadership. She hopes to turn Kenya into a democracy. Wangari understands that while democracy may not be a remedy for all ills, it is still a required building block in achieving hope and prosperity.
Wangari is successful in accomplishing her goal by continually improving her credibility throughout her life. She started out as a young girl with hopes and dreams, then was fortunate enough to receive an education as a Kenyan girl. She developed into a top scholar by high school, where she graduated at the top of her class. Then, she was one of the select few women in Kenya to obtain not only a college education, but a scholarship to a university in the United States. Eventually she got a Ph.D in biology, went to college in Germany, and followed by returning to Kenya to work hard, help the poor, share her biology credentials, visit with her relatives, and start her own family. She then continued growing as a political activist for the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights for many years.
All of Wangari’s efforts would finally pay off, when she was elected as a member of Kenya’s Parliament in 2003, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. By this point, she had gained enough respect for people in her region to put their hopes and trust in her as a leader, bring back democracy in Kenya, and solve many of the leadership issues in Kenya, such as misrule, corruption, violence, environmental mismanagement, and oppression.
Wangari accomplished her goals through self-sufficiency, and now hopes to send an inspiring message from a personal account, as well as implementing humor, sense, strength, and compassion in her memoir, Unbowed, to be a powerful voice to lead Africans forward to justice. She had to go well out of her comfort zone and take action with extraordinary courage to help transform Kenya’s government into a democracy, even at times without hardly any support. She also had to invest a lot of hard work and take many risks into the Green Belt Movement to build a strong enough platform to get her voice heard by the masses.
The main form of social inequality covered in the book was that Africans were under misrule, corruption, violence, environmental mismanagement for years. Kenya’s history is stained by colonizing Europeans, who tarnished the Africans’ culture, morals, and values by renaming landmarks and places, teaching different philosophies, and forcing them to change their religious beliefs to Christianity. Africans were also forced to fight in World War I, where many of them would be lost without having their fates reported to family members back home. As Wangari described it, “My uncle went to war and never came back, and nobody ever bothered to come and tell my grandparents what had happened to their son” (Wangari 2007).
The Green Belt Movement was the main ecological action covered in the book, which was a non-governmental organization. It took a holistic approach of environmental conservation by encouraging citizens to plant more trees instead of cutting them down because trees had major connections to water and malnutrition. Trees, according to Wangari, had roots that buried deep in the ground, where water would travel up the roots to gush up as a spring. They also hold soil together to reduce erosion and landslides. In addition, trees supplied firewood that would allow families to cook nutritious foods, and cutting down too many trees would lead to the increased demand for processed foods like white bread, maize flour, and white rice, which did not provide adequate vitamins, proteins, and minerals, thus leading to malnutrition for many people.
The biggest strength in the book was the amount of detail Wangari describes in her accounts. She seems to enlarge the images, brighten the colors, amplify the feelings, and turn up the volume to her readers, creating a very vivid visualization of what is going on in a particular scenario. Her arguments are very thoughtful, which helps back up her environmental activism intentions. She also takes into consideration how not everyone experienced some of the difficulties she and her society went through, which is very helpful for a reader to dive into her shoes without actually having first-hand experience. For instance, she explains to readers what it’s like to live in authoritarian regime, which was Kenya in the 1990s: you don’t know whom to trust, you worry about your family and your friends, and if you or they will be arrested without due process, and you fear political violence and death.
A major weakness of Unbowed was that it did not flow smoothly in sequential order. Sometimes Wangari will briefly move on then jump back to the previous situation again. Perhaps maybe she was referring to something she was remembering in the moment, but this is more of an implication rather than a thought of certainty, as at times it is difficult for the reader to follow the proper order of the story. I think addressing this main weakness would greatly improve the quality of reading for her memoir.
I felt Wangari was not biased in her writings because the government was definitely conducting acts of racism towards Kenyans, and the government and police are not always justified and can be biased themselves. Different people have different recollections, but I think Wangari was telling the truth and was being as honest as possible from her personal experiences.
I would recommend this book to people in poor financial situations or in poor foreign countries, because Wangari is a symbol of hope for those feeling disadvantaged with the hand they are dealt. She teaches these people how to use their situation in a positive way, that with courage they can be a major difference maker in life.
- Should society return to the polygamous lifestyle?
- Would American philosophies change if the nation never gave scholarships to international students to get an education in the United States?
One theoretical perspective that is prevalent in this book is authoritative power, which
was also a major obstacle Wangari had to overcome in order to achieve her aspirations. “Power is perhaps humankind’s most pervasive social phenomenon. Consequences of power are experienced at every level of social organization, but most extensively experienced now in formal organizations at all levels of hierarchy” (Grimes, 724). I think this is so important to understand because, as part of human nature, we tend to abuse our power, and the government is no different. “Procedural fairness has been recognized conceptually and empirically as a core component of authority’s trustworthiness and thus as a central antecedent of trust in the authority” (van Dijke et al., 499). This applies in Unbowed, as Wangari felt the people and the land in Kenya were treated unfairly by the government, which led Kenyans to have little trust for the authoritative powers.
Figure 1: Theoretical Diagram of the Overarching Themes of Unbowed
The theoretical diagram represents the tug of war battle between the environmental organization, in this case the Green Belt Movement, and their mission to save trees from being cut down for other uses, versus the sheer force of the government authoritative power, who wanted to follow along with the landlords’ desires to cut down trees because they felt trees were a nuisance to their property and took up too much space. This conflict is the main recurring theme of the story, as is a bi-directional dispute over the status of the environment, which is, in short, the argument between having trees versus having no trees in the land.
Table 1: Theoretical Diagram Terms and Definition of Terms
Theoretical Diagram Terms
Definition of Terms
Wangari’s Green Belt Movement, which lobbied to keep trees alive to prevent malnutrition, erosion, and landslides
The authoritative power that served as a source of conflict for the Green Belt Movement because landlords found trees as a nuisance to their space
Status of the Environment
The tug of war battle between the Green Belt Movement and the government power, where both sides had contrasting approaches on how to treat the environment
Explanation of Theoretical Diagram
The environmental organization in this case refers to the Green Belt Movement that Wangari started in hopes of saving trees from getting cut down as an environmental conservation project. Wangari endured a long struggle with the government to turn her dreams of saving trees into a reality and have her project receive heavy support and attention
The book repeatedly notes how many times the government tried to stop Wangari from succeeding in her efforts. The government often lobbied towards fulfilling the needs of the noble citizens, who preferred to have trees cut down because they took up a lot of space.
The status of the environment is the tug of war between the two opposing forces: The Green Belt Movement and their persistence to keep the trees from being cut down, and the government who wanted to use the sheer force of their authoritative powers to cut down trees to make room for other productions on the land.
The level of policy analysis this book focuses on is mainly a regional focus on Kenya.
One of the policies in the book involved the saving of Uhuru Park by saving the forests in the area and avoiding the usage of cash crops, which would cause trees to be cut down for commercial use and profit. Wangari put in a lot of effort to save this particular park and viciously fought against the government but did it for the good of the environment and the public. She knew that, by tearing down Uhuru Park, it would set a precedent to tear down more forests and replace them with more buildings and structures. Eventually her case would win and the government ended up saving Uhuru Park.
Upon completing this book, one policy I would like to see being addressed is the bias of
the government and police. I never liked how the justice system and law enforcement department both have their own bias because their job is to keep all the bad people in check, and it’s very hypocritical to me how they can be the bad people sometimes. I thought Wangari and the Kenyans were very poorly mistreated by the government, who made serious efforts to stop Wangari from succeeding in the Green Belt Movement. Also, the way they handled the young men who were forced to serve in World War I, by not taking care of them, letting them die, and then not giving explanations to their families, is horribly irresponsible and corrupt on their part, and is a bad reflection of themselves as leaders. I think a lot of citizens will benefit from fairness from the government because it will build more trust, and I believe having another branch of legislation would be an ideal solution to keep the government and police’s biases in check at all times.
The second policy I would hope to be improved is qualifying trees in Kenya as protected,
therefore making them illegal to cut in the nation. I think this would be the type of policy that would best align with the Green Belt Movement because it would be the strictest regulation the government could impose on the wealthy citizens of Kenya, who insisted on cutting down forests and build structures and produce cash crops such as tea. In California, there are several articles and laws regarding protected tree species that are not allowed legally to be cut down, and I think the state’s heavy efforts to preserve native and endangered trees is something that could be applied very well into Kenya. The Green Belt Movement could certainly learn from California’s protected tree laws and could also raise awareness to the media and general public about the importance of trees in the benefit of the environment with highly educated people like Wangari.
- Grimes, A. J. “Authority, Power, Influence and Social Control: A Theoretical Synthesis.” Academy of Management Review, vol. 3, no. 4, Oct. 1978, pp. 724–735. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5465/AMR.1978.4289263.
- Maathai, Wangari. 2007. Unbowed. A Memoir. New York, NY.
- van Dijke, Marius, et al. “The Role of Authority Power in Explaining Procedural Fairness Effects.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 95, no. 3, May 2010, pp. 488–502. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/a0018921.
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