The Geo-Politics of Dr. Wangari Maathai's Greenbelt Movement

David Padgett
Tennessee State University
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Students view the documentary "Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai." They also are required to read Dr. Maathai's "The Greenbelt Movement: Sharing the Approach and Experience." The students must write an essay describing the geo-politics inherent within the Greenbelt Movement, specifically as it relates to environmental security. The students must next examine the potential for a similar social movement to be effective in Myanmar. Key Words: Wangari Maathai, deforestation, environmental security, Kenya, the Greenbelt Movement

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Learning Goals

1.) The first goal is to introduce students to a major African environmentalist, Dr. Wangari Maathai, and the Greenbelt Movement. I like to expose students to examples of African environmentalists working to solve problems.
2.) The second goal is to expose students to the relationships between Africa's natural resources and geo-politics. The exercise is part of a major theme throughout the course focused upon how the physical and natural environment impacts human political, social, and economic systems. Students must take an interdisciplinary approach to the issue, which in some cases may push them outside of their comfort zones.
3.) In terms of higher-order thinking, when comparing the deforestation issues in Kenya to those in Myanmar, students must think critically about the similarities and differences between the two case studies might affect strategies for formulation solutions.
4.) Students must engage in independent research in order to formulate unique potential solutions to very complex issues. They will gain an appreciation for how difficult some of the environmental issues in Africa are to resolve.

Context for Use

1.) Students are given approximately two weeks to complete the assignment. Required readings and other pertinent issues are discussed during lecture.
2.) This assignment is from "Geospatial Issues in Environmental Security," an upper-division course.
3.) Students should have adequate reading, research, and writing skills. They should also have a working knowledge of world geography. Instructors should cover the physical aspects of deforestation and desertification as they relate to climate change.
4.) This activity could easily fit into a course on Africa. It is an interdisciplinary exercise blending African politics with natural resources management.

Description and Teaching Materials

1.) Reading Assignment – The Greenbelt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience by Wangari Maathai

2.) Writing Assignment 5 – After viewing the documentary, reading the book, and perusing the website on Dr. Wangari Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement, write a detailed 700+ word essay on the relationship of Maathai's work in Kenya with environmental and political security. Research environmental security issues in Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia. Could Dr. Maathai's strategies be successfully applied there? Discuss in your essay why, or why not? All sources must be cited. You must include MAPS of the areas you discuss in your essay and at least five references to The Greenbelt Movement .... Due 11/14/2016
Writing Assignment: The Geo-Politics of Kenya's Greenbelt Movement (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 26kB May1 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Instructors should introduce this lesson after the first third of the course, or after the mid-way point. Students should first be exposed to the geography of Africa's vegetation and climate regions. They should have an understanding of the impact of European colonialism upon the African continent.


Students' essays should be thoughtfully written, and clearly indicate that they have actually done the reading and watched the documentary. If students are able to successfully compare and contrast the deforestation issues in Kenya versus those in Myanmar, I assume that they have more than a cursory understanding. I also expect to see the students develop viable, realistic solutions, based upon their research.

References and Resources

1.) Video "Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai"

2.) The Greenbelt Movement -

3.) The Greenbelt Movement: Sharing the Approach and Experience – by Wangari Maathai