RWI Africa Programmes: Our New Director Shares Highlights from 2020

2020 was an interesting year full of both challenges and accomplishments for all of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s programmes and programme offices. We talked to our new Director of the RWI Nairobi Office, Rakel Larsen, to learn about her journey coming to the RWI, and to gain some insights into what 2020 was like for the Regional Africa Programme (RAP), the Kenya Programme, and the Ethiopia Programme.

Meet Rakel Larsen: Director of the Nairobi Office

Rakel Larsen joined the Nairobi Office in December of 2020, bringing with her experience working in human rights in a number of capacities, especially examining how the promotion of human rights relates to different marginalized groups. Her background of studies in human rights and refugee law, led her to work in the areas refugees and displacement.
These areas connect to the promotion of access to justice and protection of rights, the intersection of which has always been Larsen’s area of interest. Prior to her arrival at RWI, Larsen worked in the humanitarian sector.

“Working in the sector was hands-on and very rewarding […] but I thought it would be interesting to work with human rights from a different angle. I was attracted to the broad mandate at RWI, encapsulating a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted approach to the global promotion of rights and access to justice.”
Rakel Larsen, Director of the Nairobi Office.

She appreciates the way that the Institute collaborates with many actors when working with human rights standards, from academic institutions and organisations to mechanisms on the individual level:

“I believe that working with institutions from different angles allows for more sustainable changes to be implemented within the regions we work with”, Rakel says.

Larsen also shared how the programmes she works with complement each other greatly: “It has been interesting to see how there are similarities among the programmes and how partners work together across boundaries.

For instance, the Regional Africa Programme works with many academics, institutions, and supports regional actors in crafting policies, while the Kenya Programme offers an especially hands-on approach with tangible goals through their work with services involved in improving performance within the Kenyan correctional services system”, she says.

Goals for the Programmes

In terms of main goals as Director of the Nairobi office, Larsen hopes to continue to nurture the partnerships created within the three programmes into the coming years.

“For instance, within the Ethiopia programme, I hope that though the programme is ending, that the partnerships and collaboration forged in the region continue in new forms”, she says.

Looking to the future, Larsen hopes to continue furthering her passion for researching in the area of ‘People on the Move’. She aims to do more work in the area of human rights and displacement.

Achievements in 2020

Larsen spoke on the interesting work carried out within the Regional Africa Programme (RAP). “The objective of the RAP programme is to look at strengthening human rights commitments by working with a wide range of different actors”, she says. In the programme, the team works with regional mechanisms (such as the African Union and Court of Justice), with economic communities and with stakeholders that hold the regional mechanisms accountable (such as the Alliance for the Courts).

“These partnerships are diverse and interesting and will contribute to the longevity and sustainability of the accomplishments in the region”, Larsen says.
One of the highlights from 2020 Rakel mentioned was a Basic Human Rights Training for correctional officers from Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, which RWI organized together with the East Africa Community, and in the end delivered online:

“This was a concrete example of how the RWI experience gained through the Kenya Programme was transmitted to a sub-regional level facilitating exchanges and learning across the member states”, she says.

Another result from the RAP, which she found notable, was the update of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) Website.

Challenges in 2020

With these prominent achievements in mind, Larsen also shared the challenges the programmes faced in the midst of changing plans and infrastructures during the onset of Covid-19.
“For all programmes”, she explained, “we had to modify the plans.” Different lockdowns and restrictions in different countries made it difficult to predict how the situation would evolve and taking previously in-person programming and transferring it to online infrastructure was difficult.

Larsen shared that “coming up with alternative ways of carrying out the duties of the Institute were more challenging in some programmes than others”.

For example, the Kenya program is hands-on in working with prison correctional services, and in-person visits to correctional facilities are of great importance.

“But, coming up with alternative ways of carrying out the duties of the programmes was one of the biggest achievements of 2020.
Despite all of the challenges, partners were able to change to online activities and able to deliver trainings online instead of in-person”, she says. “Many partners used the time to build platforms around new resources within the changing circumstances presented by Covid19.”

Looking to the Future

In her position, Larsen hopes to look into new partnerships, and to expand existing relationships within the regions, even outside of the boundaries of the programmes she works on:

“I am interested to see how we can expand the expertise gained from the Kenya Programme in terms of correctional services. We could potentially take insights gained in Kenya and transfer them to other countries.”

Across the board, Larsen hopes to move toward the sustainability element of the programmes, and to make concrete plans to ensure infrastructure and partnerships that promote longevity within the programmes.

Part of this would be working on a sub-national strategy approach to rights, and to see how looking at sub-national needs and issues could play a role in creating sustainable relationships.*

For more information in our activities in the Regional Africa Programme, please contact:

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