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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

RVI founder John Ryle awarded OBE


The Rift Valley Institute congratulates John Ryle, our co-founder and former director, whose services to research and education in Sudan, South Sudan and the Horn of Africa have been recognised with the award of an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

John, who has been Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology at Bard College since 2007, founded RVI with Jok Madut Jok and Philip Winter in Sudan in 2001. He was RVI’s executive director from 2001-17 and presided over the Institute’s growth from its foundations as a small Sudan-focused research organisation, to an international Institute with programmes and projects across eastern Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions.

John’s vision for RVI was to build an institute that advanced the free exchange of local and global knowledge in several ways: Through action-oriented research, field-based training, distance learning, open access publishing and promoting public information in ways that bring local knowledge to bear on social and political action.

Since stepping down as executive director in 2017, John has remained involved in RVI’s work through his role as lead researcher on the South Sudan Customary Authorities project. As part of the project, he authored the report, Peace is the name of our cattle camp: local responses to conflict in Eastern Lakes State, South Sudan with research partner Machot Amuom, and was closely involved with the research and compilation of a forthcoming oral history of the 1999 Wunlit peace conference.

In addition to founding RVI, John has been a journalist—writing for the Guardian, New Yorker, London Review of Books and Granta, amongst others—and was a research fellow of Nuffield College Oxford 1996-97. Earlier, in the 1980s he worked with the Ford Foundation in Brazil, before becoming a consultant to relief and development organisations in Sudan and across the Horn of Africa during the 1990s.

John has also served on the boards of the Media Development Investment Fund, Human Rights Watch Africa and the journal African Affairs.

RVI’s Executive Director, Mark Bradbury, responded to the news:

It is twenty years since John founded the Rift Valley Institute with Jok and Philip. We are delighted and proud for John to be awarded the OBE. The award is well-deserved recognition of John’s dedication to studying and promoting understanding of the lives and cultures of the peoples of South Sudan, the Sudan and the Horn of Africa. His commitment to support the professional development of young African researchers remains central to our work.

Machot Amuom, John’s most recent research partner in South Sudan, said:

I first met John in January 2017 on an oral history training course organised by Rift Valley Institute. Before meeting him, I had read some of his works on the region and South Sudan in particular. One of my favourites is the Warriors of the White Nile, which gives unique insight into daily lives and socio-politics of agro-pastoralist Dinka-Agar. Reading his work inspired me to read wider about South Sudan and Sudan in the past and involve myself in many research projects. John Ryle has inspired many young South Sudanese in research and academia. He challenged me to read, think and write. 

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