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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This event—part of the Rift Valley Institute’s work on ‘Remittances and Vulnerability in Somalia’, in partnership with the World Bank—explored the key features and the marked variations of the remittance landscape in Somalia. It also analysed how remittances are used by families to improve food security, particularly through access to credit,…

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's first six months have dramatically changed Ethiopia’s political landscape. The Ethiopian government looks younger, more representative and radical than it has in a generation. Political red-lines have been crossed, and taboos addressed, including one of the most intractable and untouchable issues: the…

On 1 November 2018, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with Human Rights Watch, will host a screening of the film This is Congo by Daniel McCabe. The film follows four compelling characters—a whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer and a displaced tailor—documenting their lives amid the country's continuing…


On 9 July, the Rift Valley Institute will host a panel discussion on rural to urban migration in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. The panellists will present findings from their research on rural to urban migration as well as key findings from the project's synthesis report, The Lure of the City.


Famine used to kill ten million people every decade but by the early 2000s it had all but disappeared. Today, famine is resurgent, driven by wars, food blockades, hostility to humanitarian principles and a volatile global economy. On 3 July, the Rift Valley Forum hosted the launch of ​Mass Starvation followed by a panel discussion on…

The Great Lakes Course covers the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, providing a deep historical and social context to the current political and humanitarian dynamics in the region. The Co-Directors of Studies for the course will be Yolande Bouka and Judith Verweijen. They will be joined by a team of leading…

Le Stage d’études sur la région des Grands Lacs 2018 offre une approche régionale et thématique de la gouvernance et de la sécurité en République démocratique du Congo (RDC), au Rwanda, au Burundi et en Ouganda. Il examinera l'évolution politique de ces politiques post-conflit et analysera leur retour en arrière vers l'autoritarisme. 

The Horn of Africa Course covers Ethiopia, the Somali regions, Eritrea, Djibouti, and northern Kenya. The social and political histories of each country in the Horn of Africa are examined to contextualise the continuities and transformations that are taking place across the region. A variety of disciplinary perspectives and new research is…


On 13 February 2018, the Rift Valley Forum will host a panel to discuss the findings of a research project by International Alert and Kounkuey Design Initiative on the impacts of the slum-upgrading projects on addressing risks and building resilience in Kibera. The research, which is based on extensive focus group discussions and key informant…


Somalis have lived in Kenya for generations, in many cases long before the founding of the country. Despite their long residency, they are often perceived to be an alien presence in the country and a threat to security, especially following tragic events by al-Shabaab in Kenya.