African environmentalist accepts peace prize

African environmentalist accepts peace prize

OSLO, Norway – To the beat of African drums, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai received her Nobel Peace Prize yesterday, telling the audience of royals, celebrities and diplomats that protecting the world's resources is linked to halting violence.

"Today, we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system," said the first African woman and first environmental activist to win the peace prize.

Maathai, 64, warned that the world remained under attack from disease, deforestation and war.

"We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds, and in the process heal our own, indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder," she told the crowd of dignitaries, including the Norwegian royal family as well as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

"This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process," said Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement.

She received the traditional gold medal and diploma that accompanies the $1.5 million prize.

Before she took the stage, three African dancers and accompanying drummers pounded out a brief piece of African music that echoed off the walls of the large auditorium.

Maathai wore a brilliant orange traditional dress with a matching scarf in her hair.

In neighboring Sweden, the other Nobel prizes – for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics – were awarded.

Bengt Samuelsson, chairman of the board of the Nobel Foundation, addressed the criticism that too few women have received Nobel prizes. While 31 of the 705 Nobel Prizes handed out since 1901 have gone to women, Samuelsson pointed out that there were three this year.

Absent from Stockholm was the literature prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria, who cited a social phobia.

Although she sent a prerecorded video lecture, she did not send any prepared remarks for the banquet.

The third woman to win a Nobel this year was Linda B. Buck, who shared the medicine prize with fellow American Richard Axel for their work on sense of smell.

Maathai's selection for the peace prize raised eyebrows because of controversy about statements she reportedly made asserting that AIDS was created by scientists and loosed upon Africa by the West.

But in a statement released by the Nobel committee, she said, "I neither say nor believe that the virus was developed by white people or white powers in order to destroy the African people. Such views are wicked and destructive."

By Doug Mellgren ASSOCIATED PRESS December 11, 2004

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