With the Nobel Prizes announced during this week and the deaths of two prominent achievers, there are several contenders for Hero of the Week I’m going to concentrate on them and bypass the nomination of a villain for this week. Also, it follows from my previous post on the nature of heroes in our modern society that we consider the following people in the light of the criteria I suggested might be the minimum standard for hero status.
The first nomination is Professor Wangari Maathi, the Kenyan scientist, politician and environmental activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her three-decade campaign to address environmental degradation and poverty in Africa: the Green Belt Movement. In the 1970s Maathi recognised the link between poverty and environmental destruction in rural Kenya and set about addressing them by encouraging women in villages to plant trees. Deforestation had become the greatest threat to the African environment and by targeting women, Maathi reasoned that the planting of trees would empower women within the social strata, provide them with economic activity and revegetate the land. Three decades later the Green Belt had covered most of sub-Saharan Africa. Maathi was elected to the Kenyan parliament in 2003 and served as a junior Minister for Environment and Natural Resources until losing her seat in 2005. It is unknown how many lives Maathi’s work changed, but the single-mindedness with which she pursued her goal is nothing short of inspirational.
Following on the same theme, that is, women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize – and there have been only 12 in 110 years – last night the 2011 winners were announced. It had been rumoured that the Committee would this year honour the activists of the Arab Spring, and this turned out to be the case. Three joint winners of the Peace gong this year: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and the first female to lead any African country; Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian political activist who has worked to increase and improve women’s participation in the democratic process; and human rights activist, Tawakkul
Karman of Yemen, who was a key figure in the protest movement against the regime of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. These three women have been awarded the Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The Arab Spring has been one of the most profound political shifts in modern times. The overthrow of dictatorships and closed regimes has not been entirely peaceful, with ongoing bloodshed in Libya and other places, but these women, and other human rights activists with them – both male and female – are lookingto a brighter, democratic and more peaceful future.
The final nomination must go to Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and co-founder who died on Thursday at the age of 56. While the Apple company has come under scrutiny for unethical practices such as the use of sweatshop labour in China and mineral extraction from the Congo basin further endangering certain fauna, I am looking at Jobs, the man, not Apple, the company. Steve Jobs did not win a Nobel Prize, he didn’t even graduate from university, but he was undoubtedly a creative and technological genius who changed the way the world thinks about computers. I was reluctant to add him to this list of hero nominations for this week, but he more than meets all the standards I set in my last posting. I think my reluctance was due to the personality cult that seems to have developed around him and which has been prominently on show since his death, but then, did not many of the heroes I named in my last post have personality cults? Ghandi? Mandela? Martin Luther King? Mary Mackillop? Maybe the way in which a hero responds to their own personality cult is another mark of greatness. I have not been a fan of Steve Jobs and have never bought into the personality cult, but I do own an iPad and an iPhone and I freely admit that they have radically changed the way I interact with media and use technology. Like the other nominees for this week, he looked to the future, not the past, and used his creative skills to change lives.
Vale Wangari Maathi and Steve Jobs. Congratulations to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman. Heroes all.