In her death, Kenya has come back to Wangari Maathai, pointing towards her struggles for the environment, human rights, the political hostility she faced in the Moi regime and the indifference she faced in the Kibaki led government, and we have even had the opportunity to acknowledge her unique and powerful ways of organizing women towards environmental issues, her eco-feminism.
And it is through these repeated invocations that Kenya has decided to mourn for Wangari, this “coming back” or “coming to” her politics as a necessary way of mourning her. Asking questions in this post becomes difficult and I repeatedly delete whole sections of what I write because I find them too quarrelsome, without solutions, there must never been unanswered questions in a eulogy.
But I must ask what this kind of mourning, of finding answers too quickly and of deciding that we have found Wangari within ourselves, within our politics means. Do we skip a very crucial aspect of mournful introspection when we decide that Wangari Maathai was an indomitable force within Kenya’s political narrative? After all these invocations, repeated statements done solemnly, incantations even, what next?
State House announces that Maathai will be accorded a state funeral and two days of national mourning marked by the flag flying at half mast (what the Daily Nation calls the “ultimate accolade”), I wonder what should be made of this especially when read against Wangari’s wishes not to be buried in a wooden casket something that I take to be against wishes of protocol of “respectability at all costs” and the all-too-persistent fact that Kenyan society is indifferent or even ignorant of the ecological/environmentalist movement.
I also want to delve into the possible readings of state patronage in this announcement of a state funeral for Wangari, an “ultimate accolade” accorded to “persons of national significance”. It is important for Kenyans to come around the previous strained relationship between Wangari and the state, her international prominence detached psychically with the Kenyan nation and her feminism which ran contrary to Kenya’s patriarchal government and society.
We are told that the family burial committee has been incorporated with the addition of officers from the government who will plan the funeral arrangements and align it with tenets of protocol. The familial (thinking of Wangari along family and kinship ties, against her achievements and success, her ex husband and a children are sometimes mentioned too many times) and the governmental (they always viewed her indifferently or with hostility) produce here an anxious moment for both feminists, environmentalists constantly rubbing shoulders with the government and the state which was indifferent or hostile, though sometimes yielding, to Wangari’s demands.
As we are once again subjected to the all too common anti-feminist narrative of feminism as NGO-ised or feminism as being too “occidental”, I come back around my own feminist anger towards those who would not want Wangari’s work, whether environmentalist, human rights advocacy or pro-democracy to be thought of as having a feminist framework and background or feminist influences.
I am left undone by Keguro’s article on Wangari because it captures the space of possibility that the mourning protocols around Wangari continually fail in doing and my “righteous” feminist outrage that cannot address is. I cannot begin to imagine what the death of Wangari Maathai means to Kenya, to the world, to discourses on feminism and environmentalism, to women organizing against patriarchal, despotic and destructive leadership and to the detached, even negated, conscious citizen by the nation-state.
For a wonderful poem, tribute to Wangari and with ominous foreboding of the future, see Koroga’s wonderful poem by Marziya Mohammedali and Jerry Riley.