From December 12-17 2016, the African School of Economics (ASE) hosted its annual Summer Institute for Economic Research (SIER) in Contonou, Benin. Over the course of the week, over 100 participants were able to glean insights on best practices in research transparency and methodology, present research projects and discuss policy implications, and celebrate the graduation of the first cohort of ASE Master’s students.
ASE partnered with the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) and the East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative at the Center for Effective Global Action to host EASST Fellow alumni Dr. Saint Kizito Omala and Constantine Manda as lecturers during the event. In addition to conducting trainings on impact evaluation, Mr. Manda and Dr. Omala (also a BITSS catalyst), led sessions on the best tools and practices for promoting openness and replicability in the social sciences. More information on how to join the BITSS Catalyst network of professionals dedicated to elevating the rigor of transparency in research practices can be found here.
The below post is a reflection of the 2016 SIER and was written by Constantine Manda, a PhD student in political science at Yale University and a former EASST Visiting Fellow (Fall 2012) at the University of California, Berkeley. You can engage with him on Twitter @msisiri.
The African School of Economics (ASE) sits off of a busy street in Abomey-Calavi, a city about 15 kilometers (9 miles) north-west of Cotonou, Benin. The ASE is a continuation of the Institute of Empirical Research in Political Economy which was founded by Leonard Wantchekon. Since then, the school has grown to provide master’s degrees, and even more recently, admits doctoral students. Wantchekon is committed to building the capacity of African researchers : he believes that the lack of well-trained African researchers leaves out important perspectives. Ismaila Dieng, who recently joined the African Development Bank as Director of Communications and External Relations, wrote an amazing profile for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Leonard Wantchekon that I highly encourage all to read--- in it you will read about Wantchekon’s brush with a dictator, his prison break, and his not getting a Bachelor’s degree even at age 32!
In any case, it was in the welcoming Beninese December heat that my colleague Dr. Kizito Omala and I participated in ASE’s annual Summer Institute for Economic Research (SIER). The SIER included three main events: the first was a research training segment, the second a research conference, and finally the graduation of ASE students.
Kizito and I kicked off the SIER with instruction on impact evaluation methodologies using materials prepared by the Center for Effect Global Action (CEGA). These presentations are part of CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) collaborative’s impact evaluation series. During our instruction, participants received an overview of EASST, training on causal inference, randomized design, instrumental variables, differences-in-differences, regression discontinuity design, and an over view of best tools and practices in research transparency introduced via the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences.
During the research conference, diverse work was presented by researchers from Harvard University, Princeton University, the African School of Economics, and others from Europe, Canada and the United States. ASE student Gaetan Nandong, for instance, presented his work at the intersection of political economy and public health - work that he later presented at CEGA’s Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE) meeting at New York University – Abu Dhabi. Kizito presented experimental work, funded through EASST, that he is doing with CEGA affiliates Frederico Finan and Ernesto Dal Bó on how to incentivize teachers by designing an optimal teacher transfer framework and impact evaluation in Uganda.
I presented preliminary work on understanding why certain African founding leaders, such as Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, chose nation-building over accentuating ethnicity, unlike Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta. I also chaired the Economic History panel where Harvard University’s Mark Duerksen presented historical work on Lagos’ housing trends, Dalhousie University’s Dozie Okoye presented work that finds missionaries led to an erosion of trust in Nigeria, and lastly Leonard Wantchekon presented work he is doing with University of California, Davis’ Omar García Ponce which argues the nature of African independence movements and whether they were violent rural insurgencies or non-violent urban protests- all of which were important matters for these countries’ subsequent political and economic development.
The graduation ceremony at the week’s end, hosted at Cotonou’s Palais des Congrès, was particularly emotional for the students, their friends and family, ASE faculty, and everyone that participated. Under the harmattan cool winds the graduation ceremony was a perfect culmination to the week’s activities. I came out of the whole week with a deep appreciation for Wantchekon’s commitment to building African research capacity, not unlike CEGA’s EASST capacity building that facilitated my engagement with ASE. I also came out of the week with new friends and possible collaborations with several of ASE’s students or recent graduates, as well as other faculty, ASE and non-ASE, on several political economy research ideas. As they say it in my native Kiswahili, “faida imebaki kwangu” or the pleasure (of attending the SIER) was all mine.
 Nobel Prize-winning Economist Angus Deaton recently made a similar point about the need for diversity in the economics profession
 WGAPE was co-founded by CEGA Faculty Director Ted Miguel and CEGA faculty affiliate Dan Posner.