Economics Professor Léonce Ndikumana Named Andrew Carnegie Fellow

Global expert on macroeconomics and development in African countries is first UMass Amherst faculty member to receive the recognition
Léonce Ndikumana
Léonce Ndikumana

AMHERST, Mass. – Distinguished Professor of Economics Léonce Ndikumana, considered by many to be one of the best-known and most widely respected African macroeconomists of his generation, has been named a 2021 Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Ndikumana is the first University of Massachusetts Amherst faculty member to receive the honor.

Each year, the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program recognizes a select group of scholars and writers who receive philanthropic support for scholarship in the humanities and social sciences that addresses important and enduring issues confronting society. The fellows’ projects focus on a broad range of complex political, economic, technological, humanistic and sociological subjects. The recognition includes a $200,000 stipend, which Ndikumana will use to support his scholarship in macroeconomic and developmental impact of capital flight from African countries, an issue he has studied for most of his career.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, and I greatly appreciate the Carnegie Corporation’s financial support for my research on capital flight from Africa,” Ndikumana said. “It was an honor for me to be nominated by the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a candidate. I am truly grateful to the university’s leadership for trusting me and appreciating my work. I thank my family for their love and unwavering patience, as well as my colleagues in the Economics Department and the Political Economy Research Institute for their support. I especially thank Jim Boyce for excellent partnership in our work on capital flight.”

A Foremost Researcher on Capital Flight from Africa

Ndikumana is one of the world’s foremost researchers on the critical problem of capital flight from African countries. Capital flight, the unrecorded outflow of capital from countries, is not only a domestic problem, but also a global issue, Ndikumana says. It is a subset of the broader phenomenon of illicit financial flows, which consists of funds that are illegally acquired, transferred and concealed abroad.

Ndikumana will use his fellowship to support two years of extensive field work to study and write about two issues related to capital flight and how it is facilitated by major flaws in international laws and global regulatory frameworks. First, he wants to shed light on how capital flight is facilitated by the inability to enforce existing rules and regulations governing banking transactions and global trade. Second, the issue with international laws is that there are no appropriate international regulatory bodies to deal with certain important drivers of capital flight, such as corporate tax evasion. Unlike trade, there is currently no international body in charge of setting and enforcing rules on international corporate taxation. Tackling the problem of capital flight requires addressing these gaps in international laws and regulatory frameworks.

His previous studies have demonstrated that sub-Saharan Africa has experienced an exodus of more than $1 trillion in illicit financial outflows since 1970, in stark contrast to the public perception that money is flowing into the region. For many countries, Ndikumana says, this means that outflows of financial resources have exceeded inflows, despite a build-up of external debt, which causes African countries to experience a double blow with respect to their development prospects. His research has analyzed both the causes of the problem and its consequences for the people of Africa.

As a Carnegie Fellow, Ndikumana will investigate the macroeconomic and developmental impact of capital flight from African countries in greater depth through a new series of rigorous country studies. Part of this new research initiative would examine the enablers of such financial outflows, including the complicity of institutions in the Global North. “His ongoing work in this area will have enormous impact on how we think about financing for development and fits well into Carnegie’s suggested topical area of Global Connections and Global Ruptures,” the Carnegie Corporation said in a statement.

International Expertise

Ndikumana also has served as chief of macroeconomic analysis at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa and director of the Department of Economic Research at the African Development Bank. Upon his return to the U.S., he was appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN to the Committee on Development Policy, the body that advises the Secretary-General on economic development issues of regional and global importance. Since 2015, he has been a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), a group of 14 leading experts from around the world dedicated to bringing about effective and sustainable tax solutions for development.

At UMass Amherst since 1996, Ndikumana was named the first Andrew Glyn Professor of Economics in 2011. In 2013, he received the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity, and in 2017, he received the UMass Alumni Association’s Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2019, he was promoted to Distinguished Professor, the highest recognition bestowed on faculty. He is the director of the African Development Policy Program at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI).

His scholarly accomplishments are all the more remarkable given the adversity he overcame to become an economist. In September 1988, Ndikumana joined 26 Burundian intellectuals in signing an open letter to the president of the country, urging the government to stop army killings of civilians in the northern provinces of the country and to begin a transition to democratic rule. This was deemed by the president to be an offensive act and Ndikumana and six other signatories were placed in solitary confinement for five months in the notorious maximum-security prison Mpimba. After international diplomatic pressure to release the prisoners of conscience, he was released with the others in February 1989.

Upon his release, he was appointed the chief finance officer and then director of finance and administration at the University of Burundi. He won a fellowship from the U.S. Agency for International Development to pursue his doctoral studies in economics at Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned his master’s in 1992 and a Ph.D. in 1996. He received a bachelor’s degree with distinction in economics from the University of Burundi in 1986.

The Carnegie Fellows Program is a continuation of the mission of Carnegie Corporation of New York, as founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1911, to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. It was established in 2015 under the guidance of the late Vartan Gregorian, who was president of the foundation from 1997 until his death on April 15, 2021, one week after the 2021 fellows were named by the selection jury. To date, the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program has funded a total of 216 scholars, journalists, and authors, with an investment of $43.2 million.