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African Parks to give up its management of the Omo National Park

On 7 December 2007, African Parks Network issued a surprise statement, announcing it's intention to seek the early termination of its management agreements with the Ethiopian Government on the Nech Sar and Omo National Parks.

7th December 2007

African Parks Network has decided to terminate its management activities in Nech Sar National Park and Omo National Park in Southern Ethiopia. Both parks face considerable challenges arising from the unsustainable use by one or more ethnic groups, often in competition and conflict with each other. In order for a sustainable solution to be achieved, formal agreements on the limits of resource utilisation need to be discussed and agreed with the various ethnic groups, paving the way for a land use plan recognised and respected by all stakeholders. African Parks attempted to achieve such a situation in Nech Sar but the outcome was not sanctioned by the authorities. In the case of Omo the situation is more complicated and a similar result is inevitable. Compromises will be necessary and therefore such a process needs to be fully sanctioned by Government and supported by human rights organisations to ensure that the ethnic groups are properly consulted and represented. Such a process will pave the way for the formal gazetting of the protected areas and will form the foundation of a sustainable management solution for the benefit of both people and nature. Failure of the process will almost certainly result in the permanent loss of the parks and continued conflict amongst ethnic groups.

Nech Sar National Park

In February 2004 African Parks signed an agreement with the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Southern State, People and Nationalities for the management of Nech Sar National Park. At the time the Governments had expressed their prior intention to resettle two groups of people inhabiting the park because of their unsustainable impact on the Parks. Nech Sar is only 50,000 hectares in extent, a large portion of which is water, and the plains from which the park derives its name were being extensively grazed by as many as 7,000 cattle with consequent degradation of habitat, erosion, and pressure on critical species such as the endemic Swayne’s hartebeest. The resettlement was partially accomplished with the Kore community being resettled to the South of the Park. However, 3 years into the project one of the communities still remains in the Park, and the increased use by them and their livestock herds are further threatening the sustainability of the park.

In the first two years of the project the authorities made little progress with negotiating an acceptable compromise to the mutual benefit of both the community and the park. Therefore this year African Parks decided to make a concerted effort to negotiate, with independent specialist advice, an agreement with the Guji on the limits of use of the park. External organisations were invited to participate in and witness the negotiations. To an extent this process was successful, and a formal agreement was reached on 30 September with the Guji defining a core area which would be free from both people and cattle, with use permitted in the remainder of the park. The authorities were requested to recognise this agreement as an acceptable and practical compromise for the benefit of both people and nature. This recognition has not been forthcoming. Therefore African Parks has decided that it shall terminate all operations in Nech Sar.

Omo National Park.

In November 2005 African Parks signed a similar agreement for the management of Omo National Park. The complexities and challenges of managing Omo were recognised at the time, although the extent thereof was underestimated. There are eight distinct ethnic groups living in or utilising the Park. There is hostility between these groups as they compete for land and other resources and many men carry automatic or semi-automatic weapons. Wildlife has been decimated, other than in the “no-man’s land” between the different ethnic groups. African Parks put in place staff and mechanisms to build relationships and trust with the various ethnic groups. Our actions were based on the fact that the only chance of securing a sustainable future for Omo and the people dependent on the ecosystem, was negotiating limits of use of the land and natural resources by each one of the different ethnic groups. If successful this would have ensured the long term sustainability of sections of the Park, and the creation of community conservation areas in others. It would also have brought about regional peace and stability, something desired by all the ethnic groups. Such a negotiation process is extremely complicated and fraught with problems of representivity, legitimacy and self interest as well as extreme logistical challenges. However, to make matters more complicated, some human rights organisations immediately assumed mala fides on the part of African Parks, and without ever visiting the area and consulting with the very communities whose interests they purported to represent, publicly criticised African Parks for its endeavours. This criticism, although unjustified, has highlighted the need for this process to be objectively driven. If African Parks attempts to facilitate such dialogue, it will only attract hostility and legal challenges from one party or other. Africa Parks has been active in Omo for two years, and our contract anticipates an initial three year commitment. We do not believe that African parks can solve the complexities of Omo, at least not in the time frame anticipated. To continue is simply a waste of scarce resources which can be better appied elsewhere. Therefore we have requested the Ethiopian Governemnt to allow an early termination of the management agreement.

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