While land invasions and their aftermath destroy the remnants of wildlife protection in Zimbabwe, the African Parks Foundation has reportedly introduced to Ethiopia the heavy-handed relocation of longtime land occupants in the name of conservation that helped to create the pressures leading to the Zimbabwean debacle.
“Ethiopia wants a Kenyan-style network of wildlife parks to serve a Kenyan-style tourist industry,” columnist Fred Pearce charged in the April 16, 2005 edition of New Scientist. “Following the model of Kenya, the country’s leaders have been throwing the locals out of the park to achieve the ultimate safari experience for western visitors: wildlife without people.”
The African Parks Foundation, summarized Pearce, “was set up by a leading Dutch industrialist, Paul van Vlissingen. It offers to take over moribund parks from African governments, find international funding to spruce them up, and then get the tourists rolling in. It is building a portfolio of parks across Africa,” including in Malawi and Zambia as well as Ethiopia, but will not invest in parks that are jeopardized by human encroachment.
Therefore, Pearce wrote, “In the weeks before the handover of [Nechisar National Park] in February 2005 to the African Parks Foundation,” mostly late in 2004, “some 5,000 people from the Kore tribe were escorted from their thatched huts in Nechisar and dumped onto distant land owned by other rural communities. No compensation, no nothing. The Guji-Oromo tribe and their 20,000 cattle are also being targeted,” Pearce charged. “In January there were reports of huts being burnt. To make matters worse, the park will be surrounded by an electric fence that will prevent many of the displaced from walking through the park to the nearest town, already a day’s walk away. Local political groups and the human-rights organisation Refugees International have complained vehemently at this environmental fascism.”
Responds the African Parks Foundation web site, “Nechisar National Park was designated in 1962 as one of the original national parks of Ethiopia. When it was established it was an area known for wildlife, and unusually for Ethiopia, was completely uninhabited.
Since then, during a period of political turbulence, people invaded the park with substantial numbers of domestic stock. These people live without schools, clinics, or other essential services. The Government is relocating them to suitable areas near the park where basic services can be provided. The relocation has been negotiated, and is undertaken with the consent of the people involved.”
The “model of Kenya” that Pearce mentioned was pioneered by the creation of Kruger National Park in South Africa, beginning in 1898. Many other nations have cleared humans from vast tracts in the name of conservation, while Tsavo National Park, the largest in Kenya, was sparsely populated desert before being made a reserve in 1949. Conservation appeared to be the only viable use for most of Tsavo.
But Nechisar is near northern Kenya, and Kenya has often evicted herding nomads from nearby national parks, after surrounding land was grazed bare during droughts.
Pearce made plain his philosophical alliance with the pro-hunting faction in Kenya. He described as efforts to “reform” Kenyan wildlife management the repeated attempts of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum et al to repeal the Kenyan hunting ban.
Pearce also vigorously denounced “animal rights activists and some conservationists, who claim [repeal of the Kenyan hunting ban] would usher in ‘the return of the great white hunter.'”
Regardless of the merits and accuracy of the Pearce argument, however, if there is a perception among the Kore people that they have been unjustly dispossessed to make way for wildlife, Nechisar National Park and the animals in it will be at constant risk from poaching, renewed encroachment, and political opposition, for as long as the displacemnt is remembered and resented.
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