Wangari Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her "contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace". She had received a call from Ole Danbolt Mjos, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on 8 October informing her of the news. She became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the prize.
I was not prepared to learn that I had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; I wonder whether anybody ever is. The news hit me like a thunderbolt. How was I supposed to handle it? How did this happen? How did they find such a person as me? I could hardly believe it . It was clear now why the Norwegian ambassador had called. “I am being informed that I have won the Nobel Peace Prize,” I announced to myself and those around me in the car with a smile as I pulled the cell phone away from my ear and reconnected with my fellow passengers. They knew it was not a joke because happiness was written all over my face. But at the same time, tears steamed from my eyes and onto my cheeks as I turned to them. They, too, were now smiling broadly, some cheering and hugging me as if to both comfort and congratulate me, letting my tears fall on their shoulders and hiding my face from some of my staff, whom they felt shouldn’t see me cry. But these were tears of great joy at an extraordinary moment!
Wangari Muta Maathai – Unbowed, p. 291-292.
Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression—nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.