Social Justice Essay on Deforestation

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Maathai is locally and worldwide renowned as a conservation environmentalist and crusader for gender and social justice. A woman of many firsts, amongst them, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in East and Central Africa (1971) and to head the Veterinary Anatomy Department, at one of Kenya’s oldest and most prestigious Universities - the University of Nairobi (UON) in 1976 to ultimately becoming the winner of one of the most coveted global prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize (2004), (valued at 100 million dollars during that time) among other recognitions. She however is best remembered for her relentless work in protecting the environment, fighting for democratic rights and space for Kenya’s citizens, women’s empowerment, the eradication of poverty, and civic engagement and planting over 40 million trees through her Green Belt Movement. Her efforts saw her being appointed as the Assistant Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife during the regime of President Kibaki, the third President of the Republic of Kenya (2002-2013).

Born in 1940 in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountain Range in Nyeri, Central Kenya, in Ihithe, Wamagana village, Maathai recalls the land is lush, green, and fertile, with regular seasons, abundant shrubs, creepers, ferns, and trees, where rain fell regularly and reliably, clean drinking water and food was plentiful and hunger was virtually unknown. All this slowly eroded away when Kenya was colonized by the British and the administrators introduced new methods of exploiting the rich natural resources that they found. This included; logging, clear-cutting indigenous forests, establishing plantations of imported trees, hunting wildlife, and undertaking expansive commercial agriculture. Indigenous trees were cut to make room for tea and coffee plantations. Sacred landscape lost their sacredness and was exploited as the local people became insensitive to the destruction, accepting it as a sign of progress. This environmental destruction, the key being deforestation has resulted in degradation leading to high levels of risk and poverty. This exploitation has continued to date long after the colonizers left in the name of development. Maathai ponders that the clear springs that gave sweet water the birds chirping that woke all early in the morning, the thick foliage and forest cover no longer exists at the Aberdare ranges. Other parts of Kenya have too suffered similar destruction. causes of land degradation in Kenya include poor land management (mostly destruction of natural vegetation in the catchment areas through activities such as farming, encroachment, and illegal logging of forests). Deforestation in the past was also caused by forest excision for farm settlement and illegal tree felling for fuel use and timber. This caused increased runoff, flash flooding, reduced infiltration, soil erosion, and siltation in the dams and other water reservoirs.

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Maathai’s illustrious career can be traced to the 70s when she began teaching in the Department of Anatomy and later the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Nairobi. At that time very few Kenyan women had managed to attain a university education leave alone undertake doctoral studies. She later formed the Green Belt Movement whose goal was to plant at least a million trees a year. She was also a member of a number of Civic organizations like The Red Cross, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), and the National Council of Women (NCWK) to name but a few. Later, she ventured into politics, vying for a parliamentary seat in her home Constituency, Nyeri in 1982. However, it was not easy going for her as the ruling party in the then One Party State that Kenya was then, did not want her in Parliament due to her activism on social justice and opposing deforestation to make room for development and human settlement. She had to undergo hardship and great resistance from the political class of her time. Nevertheless, her life appears to have been guided by what humankind is mandated by God to do in the Book of Genesis: And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild (Gen. 1:26)—both male and female (Gen. 1:27), and God command’s them to have many children so that their descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. She lived by this responsibility that had been bestowed on humankind seriously, to nurture, care for and preserve nature for generations to come. A real steward of God’s earth.

Though she won the hearts of many and became a hero to thousands if not millions, she also rubbed a lot of powerful people and the leadership of the day in the wrong way. Maathai on a number of occasions was arrested for protesting against the cutting of forests to give way to human settlement as well as fighting for the democratic rights of Kenyan citizens and more so those who were arbitrarily arrested and detained for speaking against the excesses of the leadership of the day. Beaten and imprisoned a number of times, her activism ultimately helped defeat Kenya’s corrupt, authoritarian leadership and created a new path for ecological resilience. Maathai just like other visionary people like Blake and Hesse turned trees into an instrument of civil disobedience, empowerment, emancipation, advancing democracy, human rights, and environmental justice.

She was also a big crusader for democratic rights and her efforts towards this saw part of Nairobi’s biggest garden park – Uhuru Park dedicate a corner known as ‘Freedom Corner’ where mothers of detained political prisoners including Prof. Maathai threatened to strip naked in front of the askari’s (Swahili name for policeman) agitating for the release of political prisoners. In her life, Wangari has both slept in top-notch hotels the world over as well as been a guest of the State – in Kenya’s prison cells that were then in a deplorable state before reforms were introduced to improve the living conditions. For all her troubles, the next government of President MwaiKibakihonoured her through the Nairobi City Council by renaming a road by her name; Forest Road is now known as Professor Wangari Maathai Road. She was also honored by her profile appearing on Kenya stamps. Maathai also dabbled in Politics and she was elected as a Member of Parliament of her hometown Nyeri and was made Assistant Minister of Environment in the then Kibaki Government. Sadly, she passed on at the age of 71 from ovarian cancer. Even in her death, she lived true to her word and conservation and requested not to be buried in a wooden coffin as no tree should be cut on her account. She was cremated in Nairobi, in October 2011.

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Social Justice Essay on Deforestation. (2023, October 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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