Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai has been formally awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Ms. Maathai urged her audience at Oslo's City Hall to recognize that protecting the environment and promoting peace and democracy go hand-in-hand. She also called upon the release of fellow Nobel laureate and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.
Wearing a bright orange African-style dress and a matching ribbon in her hair, the 64-year-old Ms. Maathai was welcomed by about one thousand people, many of them waving small Kenyan flags.
The activist, who nearly three decades ago launched what has turned into an Africa-wide tree-planting movement to stop deforestation, is the first African woman to win the peace prize.
The normally stodgy award ceremony came alive to the beat of drums as a trio of dancers brought the color and sound of Africa to cold and snowy Oslo. Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes introduced the first environmentalist to receive the peace prize.
Mr. Mjoes said, "I call upon Nobel Peace Prize laureate for 2004 Wangari Maathai to come forward to receive the gold medal and the diploma."
Ms. Maathai thanked all those who have worked to create a better world. Ms. Maathai said, "Although this prize comes to me, it acknowledges the work of countless individuals and groups across the globe. They work quietly and often without recognition to protect the environment, promote democracy, defend human rights and ensure equality between women and men. By doing so, they plant the seeds of peace."
Her Greenbelt Movement, which, over the years, has planted 30-million trees across Africa, has also sought to empower women and fight corruption. Ms. Maathai says those who have been privileged to receive education, skills, and experiences and even power must be role models for the next generation of leadership. She urged for the release of 1991 Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest in Burma since last May.
Ms. Maathai said, "In this regard, I would like to appeal for the freedom of my fellow laureate Aung San Suu Kyi so that she can continue her work for peace and democracy for the people of Burma and the world at large."
Ms. Maathai, who also received a check for the equivalent of one-point-five million dollars, says she will use the money to expand her Greenbelt Movement around the world.