October 28, 2011
Ndikumana Named First Glyn Professor
The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is pleased to announce the inauguration of the Andrew Glyn Professorship in the Department of Economics and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), as well as the appointment of Léonce Ndikumana to it. On November 7, at 4:00 p.m. in Gordon Hall, a lecture and reception will honor both.
This position, funded by an anonymous donor and a matching fund established by the Provost’s Office, honors Andrew Glyn, a rigorous, path-breaking, socially committed and renowned economist who was a faculty member at Oxford University for nearly four decades until his untimely death in 2007. His life’s work continues to be an exemplar for many.
Ndikumana, who taught at UMass from 1996-2008, is delighted to be back on campus after several years of “fulfilling policy work.” Having served as chief of macroeconomic analysis at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), beginning in 2006, he ultimately stepped down from his tenured faculty position to become director of operational policies and director of research at the African Development Bank.
Ndikumana has been particularly concerned with issues of external debt and capital flight, financial markets and growth, macroeconomic policies for growth and employment, and the economics of conflict and civil wars in Africa. The author of dozens of articles and book chapters on African development and macroeconomics, he recently coauthored with Professor James Boyce Africa’s Odious Debt: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent (Zed Books, 2011). It has gained international attention and is influencing substantially the debate on illicit financial flows from developing countries, development financing effectiveness and transparency of the international financial system.
“I consider myself fortunate to again do the things I like best: teaching and research,” says Ndikumana. “My recent experience in the field will make me a better teacher as I am able to relate theory and principles to the reality on the ground. My policy work also helps in my research. I have a better grasp of the challenges and opportunities faced by African countries. I try to establish synergy between teaching and research, creating a seamless symbiosis.”
“One of the key assets of the Economics Department is a teaching and research approach that is flexible, practical, and nurtures alternative thinking and interpretations of individual, market and social behaviors,” says Ndikumana. “In this environment, we all find ourselves at ease—no matter whether our individual views are conventional conservative, liberal, neo-liberal, or leftist. We believe that diversity brings strength and creativity.”
Ndikumana’s career as an economist began at the University of Burundi where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986 and taught as a junior lecturer until 1990. “Most people know Burundi as one of the poorest countries in Africa, with a history marked by ethnic conflict,” he says. “Nevertheless, it has a highly selective education system. I am fortunate to have made it through.”
Being an educated, creative free-thinker in Burundi, however, doesn’t come without pitfalls. “In 1988, with a group of other Burundian intellectuals, we wrote an ‘open letter’ to the Republic’s president, pleading to stop civilian killings taking place in the north in one of the ethnic conflicts the country has witnessed in post-independence. This exercise in democracy earned me and six others five months of solitary confinement in the maximum-security prison of Mpimba. I was then classified by Amnesty International as ‘prisoner of conscience.’”
Ndikumana went on to study at Washington University in St. Louis, where he received both his MA and PhD in economics. “Securing a tenure-track position at UMass during a tight job market was a major achievement for me,” Ndikumana says. “My senior colleagues in macroeconomics and development fields were excellent mentors. I particularly owe a debt of gratitude to James Boyce, James Crotty, Mohan Rao, Carol Heim, Jerry Epstein, Bob Pollin and others.”
At UMass Ndikumana was a rising star. He received the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Outstanding Teacher Award, the Dudley Seers Memorial Prize for the best journal article (“Is Africa a Net Creditor: New Estimates of Capital Flight from Severely Indebted Sub-Saharan African countries, 1970-96,” coauthored with James Boyce), and a Fulbright Scholarship for a sabbatical year as a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town. Ndikumana also created a course on African development that has become extremely popular.
“I’m also proud of my accomplishments in the policy field at UNECA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2006–08) and at the African Development Bank (2008-2011),” says Ndikumana. “Contributing my research knowledge, I led the production of critical inputs into policy debates in Africa.” Ndikumana was a key player in major initiatives, such as the mobilization of the policy debate among African ministers of finance and Central Bank governors that inspired the continent’s response to the financial crisis. He also led the production of major policy documents that served as background material for ministerial conferences and fed into global forums, such as G20 Summits where Africa’s position on emerging development issues were formulated.
Back on campus Ndikumana’s research on Africa has expanded the already impressive research portfolio of the Economics Department and PERI. For the latter, he is leading the establishment of an African Development Policy Program. “It will offer training for African government officials as well as technical staff of think tanks and development institutions engaged in African development,” says Ndikumana. He also will implement a new graduate course on Special Topics in African Development for spring 2012.
“Léonce’s extraordinary paths—from rural school child to university lecturer, from prisoner of conscience to scholarship graduate student to American professor as well as from university professor to director of research and back—enrich the UMass community,” says Michael Ash, chair of the Economics Department. “Léonce’s appointment to the Glyn Professorship will integrate this university’s teaching, research, and service missions with his knowledge of and ties across that continent to the benefit of both.”