S. Robson Walton, the son of Sam, is the Chairman of the Wal-Mart Board of Directors. He has served on the Wal-Mart Board for 28 years. In his private, philanthropic role, the multi-billionaire has used his money in some ways that are as exploitive as the corporation he leads. The following exclusive report was submitted to Sprawl-Busters by Will Hurd, the founder of a group called Remote Peoples Heard Worldwide. Here is Hurd’s disturbing report about the Walton/Ethopian eviction connection:
“Omo National Park in Southern Ethiopia is being taken over by the Dutch conservation organization, African Parks Foundation and 50,000 tribal people are in danger of losing their land. Rob Walton, as both a board member of African Parks Foundation of America and major donor to African Parks Foundation, is helping to do this. The 1,570 square mile Omo National Park is home to the Suri, Dizi, Me’en, Mursi and Nyangatom tribes. These tribes live in or use nearly the entire park for cultivation and cattle grazing. They have made this land their home for centuries. The boundaries of the Omo National Park were recently legalized, gazetted, to pave the way for a management contract between African Parks Foundation and the Ethiopian Federal and Regional Governments. This gazettement was accomplished by Ethiopian Park officials forcing the tribal people to sign away their land, on documents they could not read. One Mursi tribal member reported he “saw the police grab three Mursi people … and force them to sign the paper with their thumbprints.” The gazettement of the Omo Park further eroded the Omo tribes’ already tenuous land rights, as pastoralists under the Ethiopian state. This effectively made them illegal squatters on their own land. African Parks Foundation was aware of the forced signatures and was asked repeatedly to include a ‘no evictions’ clause. But they signed a contract with no mention of the tribal peoples, in November 2005. African Parks Foundation has been involved in evicting people in Ethiopia before. In February 2004, they signed an agreement to takeover management of 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, ten thousand people of the Guji and Kore tribes were forcibly displaced from and within Nech Sar, with little compensation, endangering their survival in food insecure Ethiopia. This was done to fulfill a contractual agreement that all people be removed, before African Parks Foundation 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 Paul van Vlissingen. African Parks Foundation was founded by Paul van Vlissingen, the Chairman of the global retail giant Makro Retail. Rob Walton is heavily involved. The Walton Foundation is listed as one of two major funders to African Parks Foundation, 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 accrue to their projects, and are 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 area would be the removal of humans, who 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 to the biodiversity. If the tribes 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.”
There is an old saying, “When billionaires play, poor people pay.” These parks are the playthings of billionaire retailers like Walton and van Vlissingen. For more information about Rob Walton’s role in the African Parks Foundation, contact Will Hurd, at [email protected] Financial contributions to help in the battle to prevent these Ethiopians from being evicted, can be made by contacting Hurd.