Mursi Update - Omo National Park, Ethiopia
Updated: Aug 26
This is an update on the current situation of the Mursi and the, at least, six other Ethnic groups, the Suri, Dizi, Me'en, Kwegu, Bodi and Nyangatom affected by the Omo National Park, Ethiopia. I spent three months with the Mursi, until May of this year.
African Parks Foundation (APF) says that the east bank of the Omo River will be left alone and the boundaries of the park follow the water's edge along the west bank of the Omo River, leaving all of the water of the Omo within the park. APF says it will not interfere with the current agriculture on the west bank, but will not allow any new riverbank areas to be cleared.
To ban the clearing of 'new' areas for riverbank cultivation is to misunderstand the nature of flood retreat agriculture. After an extensive flood, for example, 'new' areas will be cleared that have not been used for several years. But as flood retreat cultivation has been practiced along the Omo for at least 5000 years, it is hard to call any of the area 'new'. If they are talking about shifting, rain-fed cultivation on the other hand, further back from the riverbank, a 'no tree-felling' policy, would make shifting cultivation impossible as the basis of it is that you move on to new areas after a few years.
APF has said that grazing by the Mursi will not be a problem. There will, however, be no hunting within what the park is calling its boundaries. The Mursi rely on hunting as a food reserve, especially in times of hunger. The Mursi women also primarily wear clothing made from animal skins, as these last up to seven years. APF said it was not interested in providing some form of food assistance to compensate for this Mursi loss of food.
The biggest concern is that all of this is just talk. On paper, the government and APF have all the legal rights to the land and the communities have none. The communities need legally established rights to their land.
APF is also claiming the Mursi 'gave' them all of Mursi land west of the Omo River, at a meeting held at Makki September, 2006. The Mursi say that at that meeting they 'gave' them only Gaegol, an area within a five km radius around the Omo Park headquarters. APF says it has this meeting on audio tape and it is legally binding under Ethiopian law, because the elders verbally agreed to it. The Mursi are furious that APF should manipulate the meeting recording this way and met with APF in April to tell them this. APF is obtaining its own translation of the tapes, not going through the Mursi who speak English. Also the papers that the Mursi were coerced into signing, to establish the Omo National Park gazettement have not appeared for scrutiny, despite several requests. The gazettement of the park is going forward on these falsely obtained documents.
I have limited information on the status of the other Ethnic groups. In general, their plight seems to be worse, as they do not have advocates (except the Nyangatom).
The Nyangatom have recently made an agreement with APF to limit their grazing in the Omo Park.
One interesting note is, APF said in its November 2006 monthly report that it found more than 150 Suri and Dizi "illegally" mining gold within the park. This is indigenous people mining gold on their land. The Suri have been there for about 350 years.
GTZ has recently made a grant to APF of $200,000 Euro for assessing the conflicts between the communities and the park and how communities are using resources in the park.
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