In roughly, two months, the Rift Valley Institute – a London- and Nairobi-based non-profit think tank – will launch yet another series of its annual ‘field courses’, intense one-week summer schools on three of the institute’s core areas of research: the Horn of Africa, the Sudans, and the African Great Lakes region.
The Great Lakes course in particular – during a crucial year for many countries of that region – should be a must-go for humanitarian and diplomatic practitioners, as well as journalists or researchers in want to deepen their understanding of this highly interconnected and complex region. Yolande Bouka, a researcher at the ISS, and incoming co-director of the Great Lakes course, said “it is essential that policymakers and donors ground their decisions in sound understanding of the context in which they operate. The Rift Valley course on the Great Lakes offers a comprehensive curriculum which includes a robust historical background, nuanced political and security analysis, and essential discussions about the social issues facing the region.” This was echoed by another member of this year’s teaching staff: ‘[the course] is a unique opportunity to spend several days with people who have lived and worked in Africa’s Great Lakes (for years or a lifetime) and others who are just beginning their time in the region. You can ask big questions and small ones, in formal settings or informal ones”, Michael Kavanagh, a journalist specialising on the Congo, told me.
Many former participants have greatly benefitted from the courses, as my own discussions with professionals and diplomats in the region confirm. Here is what Michael Bauer, a colleague, replied when I asked him about that: “To me, the course  was very stimulating. The contents, concepts, and discussions amongst participants coming from all sorts of different organisations and countries have helped me deepening my personal knowledge on the region. Having said that, I can only recommend the course to anyone working in the region – you will get a highly intensive and instructive tour d’horizon across all key aspects and developments in the region.”
One thing RVI is particularly committed too, is fostering local knowledge and local ownership. As you may see through some of the links below, teaching staff of all courses includes specialist from the respective region, and not just foreign analysts. Moreover, RVI always reserves a few participant spots to talented regional academics and professionals. Not least for these reasons, in the words of Bouka, “the week-long courses are not only great learning experiences, but are also unique opportunities to network with experts and practitioners in the region.” Kavanagh agrees: “You learn so much you didn’t know, and deepen understanding of the things you know a bit about already. The people I’ve met during the RVI courses have become an invaluable network for my work in central Africa and beyond.”
Here is to more detailed information and RVI’s official course announcement:
The Rift Valley Institute’s field courses on Sudan and South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes take place this year from June to July 2016 in Bahar Dar on the shores of Lake Tana in Ethiopia . Now in their thirteenth year, the courses provide a basis for understanding current political and developmental challenges in the region. They are taught by teams of leading specialists—from the region and beyond—and offer a unique opportunity to spend time with an outstanding group of specialists, away from routine distractions. RVI courses are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists—for new arrivals in the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their knowledge and network with other key actors working in the field. A dawn-to-dusk programme of seminars, lectures, group discussions and special events examines the key political, economic, environmental and cultural features of each of the three sub-regions. Participants are provided with a space to question and debate the impact of past and present policy interventions and consider the possible future trajectories of each of these sub-regions.
Great Lakes Course
11 – 17 June, 2016
Bahar Dar, Ethiopia
The Great Lakes Course, held in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia from 11 to 17 June, 2016, covers the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi, providing a deep historical and social context to the current political and humanitarian dynamics in the region. In the DRC, the Course will look into the debates around the electoral process and the ongoing violence in the Kivus. For Burundi, the ongoing political crisis and its impact on domestic and regional stability will be examined, while for Rwanda, the course will focus on the role of Rwanda in the region, justice and reconciliation, and political dynamics ahead of the 2017 elections. The course is in English and French with simultaneous translation. This year Yolande Bouka will join Jason Stearns as Co-Director of Studies. They will be joined by Willy Nindorera, Aidan Russell, Emmanuel de Meroda, Michael Kavanagh and Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka, amongst others.
Sudan and South Sudan Course
25 June – 1 July, 2016
Bahar Dar, Ethiopia
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 was supposed to end Sudan’s long civil war and lead to socio-political stability, democratic transformation, and economic development. The 2016 Sudan and South Sudan Course, held in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia from 25 June to 1 July, 2016, will review the impact of the CPA on the internal dynamics of each country over the last eleven years, the relations between them, ongoing internal conflicts, and civilian life. As in previous years the course addresses the challenge of working in this complex, fluid environment, linking analysis of current events to contextual understanding of history, society and economy. The Directors of Studies are Guma Komey and Douglas H. Johnson. They will be joined by Nada Mustafa Ali, Magdi el-Gizouli, Cherry Leonardi, Jok Madut Jok, Daniel Large and Atem Yaak Atem, amongst others.
Horn of Africa Course
9 – 15 July, 2016
Bahar Dar, Ethiopia
The Horn of Africa Course, held in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia from 9 July to 15 July, 2016, 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 brought to bare on conflict, climate and environmental change, livelihoods, hydro-politics, gender, culture, migration and the challenges of foreign aid to build a holistic understanding of contemporary developments and crises afflicting the peoples of the Horn. The Director of Studies are RVI Fellows Laura Hammond and Terrence Lyons. They will be joined by Nimo-ihlan Ali, Rashid Abdi, Michael Woldemariam, Christopher Clapham and Mark Bradbury, amongst others.
To apply online—and to obtain further information on courses, teachers, and locations—please visit www.riftvalley.net/key-projects/courses and download the 2016 Field Course Prospectus. For a general introduction to RVI courses please see our overview of the courses. Places are limited but there are a few places remaining on each course. You can apply online here. Applications will be considered in order of receipt. Accounts of previous years’ courses can be found here, and testimonials from previous course participants can be read here. In the coming months the RVI will be sending out updates on the courses, including on teaching staff and locations. In order to receive these, please subscribe to the RVI mailing list. You can also follow the Institute on Twitter and Facebook.