Wangari Maathai, Unbowed, A Memoir. The Analysis of the Ideological Visions of a Contemporary Kenyan Woman

Rasmus Ovesen, Emilie Fity & Miriam Leite de Moraes Bengtsson

Studenteropgave: Semesterprojekt


This depth-module project takes its point of departure in Kenyan environmentalist and human rights spokesperson Wangari Maathai’s memoir Unbowed which encompasses the whole span of Maathai’s life and details the developmental efforts that ultimately earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. With reference specifically to Charles Taylor and his concepts of recognition, the project addresses the way in which Wangari Maathai has structured the memoir, her rhetorical and linguistic means of argumentation, and how she turns her whole body of writing into a single - but very convincing - argument for a responsible and holistic approach to nationbuilding in Kenya. The project includes historical context material that introduces the reader to the specific postcolonial setting of Kenyan society and calls attention to the multi-facetted and complex nature of contemporary Kenya – a country profoundly influenced and marked by its colonial past but also by post-colonial misgovernance. By drawing upon the theories of post-colonial writers Frantz Fanon and Homi K. Bhabha, a conceptual framework for addressing post-colonial issues is developed and both micro-level and macro-level issues of colonialism and postcolonialism are addressed. The theoretical chapters detail the individual and collective effects of colonialism, hints at possible means of unification and liberation, and furthermore tabs into some of the main problems involved with the emergence of a social consciousness in the aftermath of colonialism. As Kenyan history has proved independence might ultimately end up giving way to a new modality of oppression. Focusing very specifically on the memoir Unbowed, the analysis deals with those instances where Wangari Maathai – in either subtle of obvious ways – addresses the development of the post-colonial Kenyan society, her cultural heritage, the effects of colonialism, and the environmental issues that lie at the heart of her organization The Green Belt Movement. The analysis explicates how Wangari Maathai manages to build a convincing argument through a strategy of very diplomatic and nuanced perspectives on Kenyan development legitimating subsequent criticism. It also clarifies that the main problem in Kenya is the disempowerment, alienation and division of the Kenyan people and that her visions for a democratic Kenya are based on individual empowerment, responsibility and a national sense of common purpose. The discussion elevates the questions of disempowerment, division, individual and collective responsibility to encompass the theoretical reflections of Homi K. Bhabha and his notions of cultural hybridity and the Third Space. By delving into these theoretical notions and their relevance in terms of Kenyan development, a need for national unification across divisive WANGARI MAATHAI 2/125 ethnic differences and a creation of a social and political awareness amongst the Kenyan population is argued to be very central to Kenyan development. The conclusion of the project is that Wangari Maathai, with her Green Belt Movementaffiliation and in writing Unbowed, has indeed grasped some of the most important issues that stand in the way of post-colonial development and nation-building. She has understood that Kenya’s complex ethnic nature necessitates deliberate measures in terms of national unification and she has aided significantly in narrating a new Kenya. The point is that initiatives which empower the Kenyan people; make them socially and politically conscious; instil in them a sense of pride, potentiality and national belonging; encourage them to settle cultural and ethnic differences; and stimulate in them a sense of common purpose are crucial. According to Maathai, Kenyan development starts with the individual and she herself is a shining example of this idea.

UddannelserEngelsk, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Bachelor el. kandidat
Udgivelsesdato28 maj 2008
VejledereHolst Petersen Kirsten


  • Post-colonialism
  • Issues of National Culture and National Unification
  • Wangari Maathai
  • Frantz Fanon
  • Kenya
  • Nation building in a post-colonial context