Parks Conservation, and an estimated 40,000 tribal people are in danger of being displaced and/or of losing access to their vital subsistence resources.
The 1570 square mile Omo National Park is home to the Suri, Dizi, Mursi, Me’en, Kwegu, Bodi and Nyangatom tribal peoples. These tribal peoples live in or use
nearly the entire park for cultivation and cattle grazing. They have made this land their home for centuries.
The Omo National Park was established in 1966, but its boundaries were never legally established, a process known as gazettement. To pave the way for a
management contract between African Parks Foundation and the Ethiopian Federal and Regional Governments, the boundaries were ‘demarcated’, in early 2005.
The demarcation was accomplished by Ethiopian park officials marking rocks at specific points using a GPS, redrawing maps, and persuading tribal people to sign
away their land, without compensation, on documents they could not read. This was done in hurried preparation for gazettement.
One Mursi tribal member reported that he “saw the police grab three Mursi people … and force them to sign the paper with their thumbprints.”
The gazettement of the Omo Park will make the Omo peoples illegal squatters on their own land. African Parks Foundation was made aware of the way the
‘agreement’ of local people to the park boundaries was obtained, and was asked repeatedly to include a ‘no evictions’ clause in its contract with the government.
They went ahead, however, and signed a contract, which makes no mention of the tribal peoples, in November 2005.
Ethiopian government officials said in 2005 that the Mursi would have to move out of the park, and African Parks Foundation says it cannot interfere with the plans
of a ‘sovereign government’.
People were evicted from a park African Parks Foundation took over, in 2004. In February 2004, APF signed an agreement to manage Nech Sar National Park,
near Arba Minch. In November 2004, 463 houses of the Guji people were burned down by Ethiopian park officials and local police, to coerce the Guji to leave
their land, inside Nech Sar.
“We usually hear news on the radio even when a single house is burned down by criminals. We hear all different kinds of crimes reported. In our case we lost 463
houses, but it was not reported at all,” said one Guji tribal member.
In 2004, more than nine thousand people of the Guji and Kore tribes were displaced from, and within, Nech Sar in attempt to fulfill a contractual agreement
between the government and APF that all people would be removed before APF took over management.
“We didn’t want to be involved in the resettlement, so I put a clause in the contract that said we wouldn’t take over the park until the resettlement was completed,”
said APF’s founder, Paul van Vlissingen.
African Parks Foundation founder Paul van Vlissingen, was Chairman of the global retail giant Makro Retail and Calor Gas, a liquid petroleum gas distribution
company. Rob Walton, Chairman of the board of Wal-Mart, is on the board of African Parks Foundation. The Walton Foundation has donated large sums of
money to APF and is listed as one of two major funders to African Parks, along with the US Department of State.
African Parks Foundation manages parks in Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Ethiopia and is reportedly looking at
managing more. The revenue from these Parks accrues to their projects, and is put towards opening more parks. “National Parks must become virtual companies,”
Paul van Vlissingen has said and this corporate philosophy for his conservation organization makes sense, with the business tycoon Rob Walton on board.
The environmental impact of this plan could be disastrous, if people, who have managed this land and its wildlife for centuries, are removed. Tribal people have
formed this landscape over thousands of years of agricultural and grazing. The most radical change to the ecosystem would be the removal of humans, whom the
wild animals have evolved behavior patterns with over millennia. Hungry, angry peoples surrounding the park would be detrimental to the success of the park and
If the tribal peoples of the area are removed, there is great risk of both violent conflict with the government and with any tribes whose land they are moved onto.
There is no unused land in the area; fights would ensue over too little land for two many people.
“The Ethiopian government should be very worried about the prospects of even more violence if they go ahead with their apparent policy of removal in the Omo …
area” said David Turton, a British anthropologist with over 30 years experience working among the Mursi, one of the tribes living in the boundaries of the Omo
National Park. “Any attempt to encroach on Mursi territory will ratchet up the existing pressure on resources in the lower Omo area.”
African Parks Foundation (now known as African Parks Network) of the Netherlands has announced it will withdraw from its lease of both the Omo and
Nech Sar National Parks, Ethiopia, by October, 2008.
Human rights organizations had voiced concern that African Park’s plans to manage the Omo National Park would have evicted local tibes from their
ancestral land, or caused them to lose access to vital agricultural and grazing land. Seven tribes, the Suri, Dizi, Me’en, Nyangatom, Kwegu, Bodi, and
Mursi, live in or use the land designated as the Omo Park for subsistence resources. An estimated 40,000 people use park resources
In a statement released by African Parks in December, 2007, they cited the actions of human rights organizations and possible “legal challenges from one
party or other” in their reasons for withdrawing from the Omo Park. The Mursi are relieved by the news, ‘Now that African Parks are leaving, everything is
well. Our cattle will graze along with the Dik-Diks, Zebra and Warthogs. If our land is taken, it is like taking our lives.’
Furthermore, APF’s withdrawal from Nech Sar National Park will mean a contractual obligation stipulated by APF for the government to remove the
Guji tribe, will not be carried out.
Native Solutions to Conservation Refugees has advocated for the rights of the local communities in and around the Omo Park since January, 2006. Native
Solutions director, Will Hurd, lived with the Mursi in their territory, for one year.