Introducing the Mursi

The Mursi (or Mun), a group of agro-pastoralists living in the Lower Omo Valley of southwestern Ethiopia, have found encounters with outsiders mostly painful, and often violent, in tune with most indigenous groups globally. This new GRNPP initiative will support members of the Mursi community to promote more peaceful encounters with the outside world and advise their government and NGOs about how to improve services and collaboration. Through a coalition between the Mursi, South Omo Theatre Company (UK/Ethiopia), Institute for Peace and Security Studies (Addis Ababa University), and SOAS, the University of London, Mursi researchers are researching and representing themselves to achieve greater influence in political processes from which they are usually marginalised.

Mursi customary livelihoods – cattle herding and shifting cultivation – are being undermined by tourism, industry and hydro-electric projects. Climate change further upsets the delicate ecology of the region. Access to healthcare, education, clean water and transport is extremely limited. Seen as dangerous and backward by many visitors, from their perspective outsiders attack and even kill them, steal their cattle and land, damage their environment, and photograph them with disdain. A coalition of Mursi, Ethiopian and UK scholars and filmmakers will research new forms of representation of and by the Mursi/the Other to challenge this disdain.

Research Coalition 

This research is led by members of the Mursi community. With IPSS and SOAS in support, we will collectively dialogue with policymakers, governments and the United Nations, leading up to the UN Year of Pastoralists (2026) and learn about processes of collaborative inquiry and partnership. The underlying logic for research, knowledge exchange and impact has been developed by innovators among the Mursi, through a 15-year partnership with SOT that puts them into key leadership positions in the core project team. The goal is to improve the relationship between the Mursi and outsiders from their perspective, finally transforming the terms of engagement with researchers, practitioners and policymakers after decades of failed attempts, so that the Mursi and other pastoral groups across other nations in Africa can secure more peaceful, economically viable and environmentally safe futures.

Mursi-led Research

The core team includes Olisarali Olibui, Ngarori Tula and Ben Young (South Omo Theatre Company), Mercy Fekadu Mulugeta and Bardoley Tula (Addis Ababa University), and anthropologists Emma Crewe, Hannah Bennett and Richard Axelby (SOAS, University of London). It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

In 2023 the Mursi formed a panel to encourage applications from the community to research the challenges they face and make recommendations for improving their relationship with the outside world. Those awarded are receiving mini grants of less than £100, all awarded by a panel of Mursi community members. So far 13 grants have been awarded out of about twice as many applications. Topics range from the need for clean water, cataloguing new cattle diseases, how to promote peace, healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth and preventing famine.