In her native Kenya, Wangari Maathai has been arrested, beaten unconscious and called subversive. Last week, her fortunes took a different turn when she became the first environmental campaigner and the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On Saturday, Maathai talked with TIME's Stephan Faris under a tree outside the offices of her Green Belt Movement in Nairobi.
KOFI ANNAN, NELSON MANDELA, MOTHER TERESA, AND NOW YOU. HOW DOES IT FEEL? It is the kind of thing that I'm sure will sink in slowly. But right now, it's like a dream. When you are involved, you actually don't have time to evaluate the impact of your work.
WHAT DO YOUR ACTIVITIES HAVE TO DO WITH PEACE? Many of the wars that are being fought are over resources: oil and water in the Middle East. Here in Africa, we have minerals, we have land, we have timber. I think what the Nobel committee is doing is going beyond war and looking at what humanity can do to prevent war. Sustainable management of our natural resources will promote peace.
THE GREEN BELT MOVEMENT HAS PLANTED OVER 30 MILLION TREES. WHY TREES? The original idea was to give women firewood. I thought the easiest way was to teach them to plant trees themselves. We are just coming out of a culture where trees grew on their own.
AND IT ALL STARTED IN YOUr BACKYARD? I started in a forest, and then took the trees to a show in Nairobi. From there, I didn't know where to go, so I took the trees to my backyard.
WHY WORK WITH WOMEN? I actually did not choose women. Perhaps because I am a woman, the people talking about the need for firewood and the need for food were women.
HOW WILL YOU SPEND THE MONEY? I want to use some of it to support this work. I also want to promote culture. There is a very strong link between culture and conservation. If our people had a reverence for the mountains that our forefathers had, they would not be raping that mountain. Instead, we view that mountain as a resource to exploit rather than as something to appreciate because it gave us water and wood.
YOU'VE SAID AIDS IS A BIOLOGICAL WEAPON MANUFACTURED BY THE DEVELOPING WORLD TO WIPE OUT THE BLACK RACE. do you still believe that? I have no idea who created aids and whether it is a biological agent or not. But I do know things like that don't come from the moon. I have always thought that it is important to tell people the truth, but I guess there is some truth that must not be too exposed.
WHAT ARE YOU REFERRING TO? I'm referring to aids. I am sure people know where it came from. And I'm quite sure it did not come from the monkeys. Why can't we be encouraged to ask ourselves these questions?
WHAT'S THE PLANET'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE? The environment. We are sharing our resources in a very inequitable way. We have parts of the world that are very deprived and parts of the world that are very rich. And that is partly the reason why we have conflict.
WHAT'S NEXT? More trees. I will grow more trees. Democratic governance is still a big issue in Africa, so I want to continue in that area.