The Global Research Network on Parliaments and People, at SOAS’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology, has initiated a new research programme with the Mursi (or Mun), a group of agro-pastoralists living in the Lower Omo Valley of southwestern Ethiopia. They 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), Addis Ababa University, and SOAS, the University of London, Mursi researchers will document, research and represent themselves and 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.
We will co-ordinate research led by members of the Mursi community (funded by mini grants of less than £100 all awarded by Committees of Mursi community members); learn about processes of collaborative inquiry and partnership; and dialogue with policymakers, governments and the United Nations, leading up to the UN Year of Pastoralists (2026). The Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University will lead on learning how Mursi researchers fare in their determination to analyse their community’s challenges, values and solutions. The underlying logic for research, knowledge exchange and impact has been developed by innovators among the Mursi, through a 15-year partnership 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.
The core team includes Olisarali Olibui and Ben Young (South Omo Theatre Company), Mercy Fekadu Mulugeta and Bardoli (Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University), and Emma Crewe and Richard Axelby (SOAS, University of London). The project was launched in Mursiland and will begin distributing grants by the end of 2023. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.