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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The Ilemi Triangle is a cartographic curiosity where South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia meet. To date, there has been no demarcation of this colonial border in East Africa, let alone any agreed definition, and it is often referred to as ‘a dispute area’. On 10 March 2020, the Rift Valley Forum will host a panel discussion on the history and the…


On Friday 28 February, the University of Nairobi launched a new collaborative research project, Diaspora Humanitarianism in Complex Crises (D-Hum). The project will explore how Somali diaspora groups mobilize, channel and deliver humanitarian assistance to Somalia through various humanitarian infrastructures that facilitates or constrains it.…

On 25 February 2020, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with the Conflict Research Programme (CRP-Somalia), launched the new report, Food and Power in Somalia: Business as Usual? The panel discussed how the political economy of food has changed in the past 10–15 years along with shifts in governance and aid.

South Sudan recently celebrated a new peace deal, hoping to bring an end to a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2013. However, with a number of peace deals being signed in the past, with limited success, some remain sceptical of the ability of the new agreement to hold.


Drought is once again devastating the Horn of Africa. It has severely affected the food security of more than 13 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Although droughts and other climatic shocks are recurrent in the region, are humanitarians, donors and governments learning from the successes and failures of past responses?

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Ethiopia has become one of the most profitable locations in Africa for foreign funded agricultural developments. Hoping for export revenues, the Ethiopian government leases millions of hectares of allegedly unused land to foreign investors. However, the dream of prosperity has a dark side: massive forced evictions, small scale farmers losing…


Unprecedented levels of investment in ‘green’ resources—hydropower, geothermal, wind, landscapes and wildlife—are a central feature of national development strategies across eastern Africa. Political and business leaders have welcomed this investment for the benefits it will bring to the national population and the local jobs created. Many of…


On 4 September 2019, the Rift Valley Institute, in collaboration with the British Institute in Eastern Africa, launched the book, Benga, a Kenyan Kaleidoscope, by the Flee Project. The book invites readers to consider the intensification and digitalization of exchanges and their impact on artistic practices, the obsession with…

For the fifth time since 2010, Somalia is exploring options for an electoral model that will advance the country’s democratic process. Despite previous attempts to pursue democracy, Somalia has failed to shed its clan-based political system. So far, the Federal Government of Somalia and other key stakeholders have been unable to agree on a…

The 2019 Horn of Africa Course examines the Somali-speaking lands, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and northern Kenya. It explores the historical and contemporary features that make the Horn the world’s most crisis-ridden region.