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Department of History

Engagement and Impact

A series of collaborative research projects in East Africa has established an authoritative but independent voice to help people understand this important but unstable region.

The research, led by Professor Justin Willis and Dr Cherry Leonardi, both from the Department of History at Durham University, is centred on Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. It is distinctive in that it draws on deep historical knowledge of the region to offer an analysis of contemporary politics and society.

Professor Willis has conducted research on elections (pictured) in Sudan and Kenya that has proved valuable to election planning and analysis. He is currently involved in further election research in Uganda and Kenya, and in work on the process of devolution and politics in Kenya. Dr Leonardi’s work in South Sudan has focussed on traditional authority and local justice and her research continues to be cited widely by government bodies and other organisations.

Prof Willis and Dr Leonardi have also played a key role in the development of the Rift Valley Institute, a knowledge-based non-profit organisation which brings better understanding of local realities to bear on social and political action. They have been particularly involved in the development of intensive courses on aspects of East African politics and culture, which are key events in the training of foreign diplomats and development workers.

The research won a Durham University Award for Excellence in Research Impact in 2014.