Wangari Maathai is smiling on Heather Maseko today

Malawian eco-warrior and organizer Heather Maseko is once again on the move.

Yesterday, Deepa Pullanikkatil, of LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa, posted a video, Zomba city cutting down historical Mbawa trees (African mahogany):

“Hello. My name is Heather Maseko. I was born and raised in Zomba. I did my primary school in Zomba, and my secondary school in Zomba, and my university at the University of Malawi Chancellor College. I am a young environmental activist who works with young people on issues of environmental management … It is with great concern that we see the natural resources of Zomba being degraded, things that have happened in the past couple of years, and it is with a sad note that we see these malpractices have come to Zomba city. What you see in my background is timber production that’s right in the city. They are cutting down Mbawa trees, which have been planted more than a hundred before just in the name of constructing a road. As planners and citizens of Zomba came down to discuss the issues, we found that there were other viable solutions in constructing the road while still maintaining the natural heritage of preserving the trees in the city. It is also with great concern that as a young person we see these malpractices done right in our cities, so that … generations will not benefit from the good climate, from the good environment, that Zomba has always had and that we have always cherished. So we’re calling on authorities, we’re calling on engineers, we’re calling on other civil societies, and every other person who is concerned with the welfare of people in Zomba and the future generations and even the tourists that come to Zomba to help us in putting a halt to this malpractice, to save these trees which are a natural heritage, which help in so many ways, including addressing issues of climate change, as a natural heritage as well, to stop this malpractice, to save these trees, and to make sure that our generation, the future generation, will enjoy both good development and a good environment.”

Zomba was the capital of British Central Africa, then of Nyasaland, and finally, until 1974, of Republic of Malawi. Malawi’s Parliament remained in Zomba for another 20 years, until 1994. Zomba is now the capital of Zomba District, whose economy if primarily agricultural, with tourism a distant second. Zomba is experiencing rapid population growth, with a population of over 130,000 and rising fast.

Born, raised, and educated in Zomba, Heather Maseko embodies all the changes of the last twenty years. Perhaps for that reason, she has been a face of environmental activism. In 2011, she was on the caravan that crossed the African continent, and ended up in Durban, at the climate change conference, or COP 17. She went to learn: “As a youth this is a platform to gain experience on the process of negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a future leader.”

Although the conference disappointed Maseko, that disappointment became the point. She saw first hand that environmental change has to happen from the ground up, that the local matters, and that people, and in particular young people who increasingly make up the majority of the population, must learn to organize and take power.

Heather Maseko has been doing just that, organizing, learning, and taking power. In Malawi, the Mbawa tree matters. That’s why, in 2012, Joyce Banda launched a national campaign to plant trees by planting an Mbawa tree. The Mbawa tree takes a hundred years, and more, to grow to maturity. Trust the youth to teach the world the lesson of the value of time and process.

Heather Maseko is making democracy happen, on the roadsides of Zomba. Wangari Maathai is smiling on Heather Maseko today. The democracy of people is gathering among the trees.

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.