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 fifth Sudan Course took place at Rumbek Senior Secondary School in June 2008 under the direction of Justin Willis and John Ryle. The course is taught by a team of noted Sudanese academics and activists and international specialists. This year the teaching staff included Roland Marchal, Douglas Johnson, Magdi al Na'im, Joanna Oyediran, Jok…

The fourth Sudan Field Course took place in May 2007 in Rumbek, South Sudan. The teaching staff included Douglas Johnson, author of The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars, Suliman Baldo of the International Center for Transitional Justice, Jok Madut Jok, author of Race, Religion and Violence in Sudan, Hala Elkarib of the Khartoum-based SIHA (…


Home to two million people, Nairobi’s informal settlements host the city’s most vulnerable communities who lack access to virtually all publicly run services, especially security. In these settlements, multiple players have emerged to claim the role of security providers, and citizens must 'hustle' for security.

The third annual RVI Sudan course took place in Rumbek, South Sudan from 7th to 12th May 2006. As in previous years, the course provided an intensive introduction to north and south Sudan, covering modern history, politics and administration, civil war, ethnography, economics, human rights, and natural resources. The course was organized in…

The second Rift Valley Institute Sudan Course was held in July 2005 in Rumbek (then the administrative centre of the new government of South Sudan). The course took place at Rumbek Senior Secondary School, the first international event to be held there since before the civil war. The teaching staff on the 2005 course consisted of international…

The first RVI Sudan Course was held in April 2004 in Kenya at a game ranch on the Athi Plains, outside Nairobi. Participants were housed in a field centre on the ranch and a tented safari camp nearby. Twenty-five students from sixteen organizations and a dozen nationalities attended. There were ten academic staff and half-a-dozen guest speakers…