Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: Unbowed

Unbowed: A Memoir (Vintage) Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is like the trees that Wangari Maathai so passionately planted in Kenya - it is slow in the beginning, building its roots, but then it blossoms and grows into one of the most fascinating and inspiring reads I have read in a while. I also learned so much from this book about Kenya's struggle to have a real, thriving, democratic form of government. I did not realize that the first real elections that they had was in November of 2002!

Maathai is a very wise woman who came from humble beginnings, but through education and persistence forged this amazing journey into a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2004. Her writings about the struggle to form a democracy through the advocacy work of many organizations, including her own Green Belt Movement, illuminated just how hard it is to have a real, democratic society. Kenya's struggle for real democracy is unfortunately way too much like many other nation-states' struggles that continue to this day. Kenya has had to battle corrupt politicians who rigged elections, used the police and their own newspaper to oppress those who worked for freedom. Kenyan politicians who were in power deliberately antagonized different ethnicities against each other in order to consolidate their own power, causing untold internal strife, displacement and cultural antagonism that lives on today.

Maathai also hits the nail on the head with one of her statements that Kenya was always a land full of many nations, but a foreign power came, drew lines on a map, and clobbered these people together into one land and now they have to learn how to live together in a government that represents all of them. This is the truth for many states in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia and is part of the reason why so much strife still occurs today in these states.

Maathai is also a strident environmentalist and makes the point why environmentalism, good government, and human rights are all tied together. It is for this reason that the Nobel Committee chose Maathai as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2004.

I really enjoyed this book. It brought back the part of my brain that loves and is fascinated by international relations, foreign affairs, learning new histories, and realizing how so many histories are connected and influence the events and world that we experience today. I love books that leave me feeling inspired about foreign affairs than jaded (because that is what my UVA education did for me). This is one of them and it is at its core an incredible story of persistence by a remarkable woman who through her persistence managed to help change a country.

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