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Popular Belgium street may be named after Wangari Maathai

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Kenyan Nobel laureate and environmentalist the late Prof Wangari Maathai may be immortalised on a popular Belgium tunnel.

Her name is among 15 proposed for renaming of the 2.5 kilometre-long King Leopold II tunnel. The tunnel connects the Rogier Tunnel and the Small Ring, and is the main artery for traffic entering and leaving Brussels, Belgian capital.

The renaming of the tunnel is “aimed at coming to terms with Belgium’s colonial past and addressing gender inequality,” reports Reuters. Only 6.1% of streets are named after a woman in Brusells.

King Leopold II, seating on the helm at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries oversaw a colonial rule that cost millions of lives in central Africa. Last June, his stature in Brussels was removed by activists amid the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests.

Under his colonial rule, King Leopold II orchestrated the killing and maiming of millions of people in Africa. Belgium is keen on shedding this image, thus the renaming of the tunnel. PHOTO/COURTESY.

All the 15 proposed names are of prominent women, deceased. According to the Brussels Times, 10 were selected by a committee of experts and the rest by the Belgians.

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Wangari won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was the first black African woman to win the coveted prize. In 2015, Limuru Road in Nairobi was renamed Wangari Maathai Road.

Others Shortlisted

Two other African women on the shortlist are Sophie Kanza, first Congolese woman to complete high school and hold a ministerial position, and Semira Adamu, a Nigerian who fled to Belgium at age 20 and died as a result of police violence.

It will be a tall order for Maathai and the rest, considering the biographies of the other women, and the fact that Belgians are most likely to vote for one of their own.

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Belgians picked are Isala Van Diest, first female medical doctor and first female university graduate, Andrée Eugénie de Jongh, who was a member of the Belgian Resistance during the Second World War, Queen Elizabeth, former leader, Astrid of Sweden (first wife of King Leopold III), Antoinete Spaak, first female president of a political party, Marie Popelin, lawyer and champion of human rights, filmmaker Chantal Akerman, and singer Annie Cordy.

Others are Rosa Parks, U.S civil rights icon, scientist Marie Curie (first woman to receive Nobel prize), Marguerite Yourcenar, French novelist and essayist, and Simone veil, champion for decriminalization of voluntary abortion.

The-then Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero when Limuru Road was renamed after the mercurial Nobel laureate in Oct., 2015. PHOTO/FILE

Month-Long Voting

Voting started at the beginning of this month and runs through to the end of the month.

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“Won’t it be remarkable to see tunnel Wangari Maathai as you drive through Brussels,” says a note from the Kenyan Embassy in Belgium. “Pamoja Twaweza! (Together we can)”  

According to the Brussels Times, the official name change will take place once the ongoing renovations to the tunnel are complete.

Born in Nyeri in 1940, Wangari Maathai worked her way up to the top echelons of academia -becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.

She founded the Green Belt Movement to champion her passion for the environment. Her citation for the Belgian naming describes her as “a Kenyan scientist known for her commitment to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

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