Aims of the Rift Valley Forum

The Rift Valley Forum for Research, Policy and Local Knowledge, previously the Nairobi Forum, was established in 2012 to provide a new space for critical discussion of political, economic and social issues in Eastern and Central Africa. The Forum is a venue for dispassionate examination of contested terrain, where researchers, practitioners, officials and activists–from the region and beyond–can meet on equal terms. The Forum programme includes the Horn, East Africa, Central Africa and the Sudans. Besides the Nairobi programme, Forum meetings have been held in Mogadishu and Hargeysa.

Historical Background

The Forum sponsors research, convenes meetings with public figures, and organizes lectures, workshops, and seminars. These events are the occasion for debate between different constituencies, where insights derived from social research and local forms of understanding are applied to policy and practice. Some Forum events are public; others take place with invited participants only. Major public events are recorded and released as podcasts.

The Forum publishes research papers and briefings under the RVI imprint. These can be downloaded free from the Institute website. The papers address current social, political, economic, and environmental issues in the crisis zones of the Horn and Eastern Africa.

The inaugural event of the Forum was ‘A Somali Spring?’, a panel discussion with Somali activists and international researchers on the prospects for a post-transition Somalia. Since this first meeting the Forum has organised over forty events in Nairobi and elsewhere, including a workshop on social resilience and development in Somalia, a public report by international observers on Somaliland’s district council elections, and a seminar examining approaches to state-building in Somalia, held in collaboration with the Life and Peace Institute. The Institute has published over twenty briefings and meeting reports based on Forum events.

Events in 2014 have included seminars, conferences, and book launches on themes of policy and practice, rights and representation, culture and heritage, and new regional economies. Forum events take place at various venues.

During 2015, the Nairobi Forum transitioned into the Rift Valley Forum. The thematic focus of the Forum was revised to reflect its broader geographical coverage in eastern and central Africa, while continuing to work on the Horn of Africa and the Sudans. Since January 2015, the Forum has held over a hundred public events, conducted a number of original studies were undertaken and organized multiple training events have been organized. 


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In response to recent events in Ethiopia, notably the declining space for civil society and humanitarian actors to operate and limited media coverage of the Ethiopia conflict, on 1 December 2020, the Rift Valley Forum hosted a panel discussion to explore the role of regional bodies and civil society in managing and mitigating conflict.


On Wednesday 28 October 2020, the Rift Valley Institute, in partnership with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, hosted the third webinar in its elections series to discuss the upcoming elections in Uganda, which will be held in February 2021.

On 30 September 2020, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with Heinrich Boll Foundation, hosted the second forum in the Elections Series on the 2020 elections in Tanzania.

On 16 September 2020, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with Heinrich Boll Foundation, hosted on online forum to explore the electoral atmosphere in the East and Horn of Africa region. The forum provided a critical space for the examination of contentious issues around elections scheduled for 2020 and 2021.


On Friday 7 August, the Rift Valley Forum hosted a launch of the book, Gender, Protests and Political Change in Africa, edited by Awino Okech. The book brings together conceptual debates on the impact of youth-hood and  gender on state building in Africa. It offers contemporary and interdisciplinary analyses on the role of protests as…

On 15 July 2020, the Rift Valley Forum will host a webinar to discuss this issue of policing the pandemic and to explore alternative policy frameworks for the management of COVID-19.

Four years ago, photographer and film director, Taye Balogun, set out to look into the status of arms control in the Horn of Africa. Balogun documented in words and images the role of young people in the trade of arms across the Horn. On 19 May 2020, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with The Carrot, hosted a webinar to discuss Balogun’s…

On 14 May 2020, Dr Sahla Aroussi presented findings from her research, Strange bedfellows: Women, Peace and Security and Countering Violent Extremism in Kenya. The study examines the impact of linking women, peace and security with countering violent extremism on the ground in Kenya.


On 6, 13 and 20 May 2020, the Rift Valley Forum, African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMDPC) and Amnesty International will host a webinar series on Migration, movement and mobility in the era of COVID-19. The webinar series aims to unpack the issues arising from the responses to the pandemic on migration in Eastern and the Horn of…


On 12 March, the Rift Valley Forum will host a presentation by Somali and South Sudanese researchers on their oral history work with Somali migrants, customary authorities in South Sudan and on the 1999 Wunlit Peace Conference, followed by a discussion on the future of oral history in an era of fractured states, global diasporas and expanding…