August 14, 2017. This week’s Political Economy and Governance Thematic Research Group met to discuss the paper, “Can Informed Public Deliberation Overcome Clientelism? Experimental Evidence from Benin” by Thomas Fujiwara and Leonard Wantchekon. It was a pleasure to welcome Professor Wantchekon himself to lead the discussion and answer questions.

In the paper, authors studied the effect of nonclientelist practices such as public deliberation on presidential campaigns. The experiment involved the cooperation of actual candidates in the 2006 presidential election in Benin. Subsequently, these candidates adopted Fujiwara’s and Wantchekon’s strategies for the election. They adopted the “treatment” or alternative campaign strategy in randomly selected villages, while pursuing the standard clientelist strategy (in form of rallies, cash and gifts) in control villages.

Results of the experiment found that “treatment” reduced the prevalence of clientelism and did not affect voter turnout. They also found that “treatment” lowered vote shares for the candidate with a political stronghold in the village and was more effective in garnering votes in regions where a candidate did not have a political stronghold. This presentation attracted a lot of interest from ASE students. They were very interested in the implications of this experience in the wider context of the political environment in Benin and in general in Africa.

Thursday, August 3, 2017. The dynamics of innovation is still under way at the African School of Economics (ASE). To add to the weekly Video Workshops, which allow students to learn about innovations in the field of economics, ASE launched the Thematic Reading Groups (TRG’s). These intellectual circles will give students the opportunity to learn more about cutting-edge research in their areas of interest. The groups are classified around various themes: IT and Management, Education and Health, Political Economy and Governance, Economic and Social History, Agriculture, Infrastructure and Trade, and Finance.

The Finance group kicked off its first meeting yesterday at IREEP, supervised in person by Professor Sam Aguey and online by the President of ASE, Leonard Wantchekon. In his introduction, Prof. Wantchekon stressed the three important aspects of students' experience at ASE: classroom teaching and learning; research experience and fieldwork; and discussion based reading groups. He explained the reading groups were designed to help students find potential research topics for their theses, but also for their future PhD studies and overall professional development. As all students are required to join two groups, Prof Wantchekon stressed student attendance and participation in weekly TRG meetings.

During the Finance meeting, participants introduced themselves and their research interests. In total, there were twenty students including Professor Sam Aguey. Since it was the first session, students mainly discussed their interests and aspirations for what they wished to learn from the group. Popular themes included microfinance, macro-finance, financial systems in Africa, and personal finance.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Professor Sam Aguey reminded students that the Finance group was created for those with significant knowledge about the subject as well as for those with no background in finance at all. In the end, the goal of the group is for everyone to learn as much as they can about diverse fields related to finance, improve their presentation and discussion skills, and broaden their intellectual horizons.

 

Thursday, July 27th, 2017. As part of its weekly Academic Research Seminar series, ASE students and staff had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Songbian Zime from the Department of Engineering at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. Dr Zime currently works at the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis (INSEA-Benin). During the seminar, he presented his paper titled Economic Performance Evaluation and Classification using Hybrid Manifold Learning and Support Vector Machine model. In his paper, he outlines the importance of being able to classify the economic performance of different countries in order tailor economic policy and mitigate the risks posed by globalization. He also cited that such economic classification is used by international organizations such as the World Bank to determine the lending eligibility of countries. Among the techniques used to classify the economic performances of countries, the Support Vector Machine (SVM) is considered as one of the best. However, even the SVM has its limitations, especially when dealing with complex data. In order to overcome this limitation, Dr. Zime proposes a hybrid model which includes the Support Vector Machine (SVM) combined with different dimensionality reduction techniques, which produces more reliable results compared to the standard support vector machine.

Following his presentation, the students engaged in lively discussion and had the opportunity to ask the speaker numerous questions concerning his research. Dr. Zime was impressed by the international approach of ASE programs and believes the African School of Economics is making strides to overcome challenges to higher education on the African continent.

When asked to comment on the seminar, Samson M'Boueke (MMES I) noted: "The seminar was very interesting and the presenter used a conventional statistics model in his paper. This is a very good innovation."

 

Thursday, June, 29th 2017. Now in its fourth day, the Finance and Management Workshop organized by the African School of Economics (ASE) and financed by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) continues to offer a stimulating program.

During the morning session on Project Management, Professor Lavagnon Ika explained the MPBOK (Project management body of knowledge) approach of project management, among other topics.

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In the afternoon, the Financial Risk Analysis course continued with a summary of the way projects are financed and how this affects their return on capital. Professor Soumaré’s lecture focused on the management of financial risks.

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He presented the different sources (prices, interest and exchange rate variation) and types of financial risks (market, credit, operational and liquidity risks). He also introduced different models used in financial risk management namely the model average-variance of Markowitz, the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) of Sharpe-Lintner.

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Both sessions were very interesting, interactive and practical.

 

 

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June 27th, 2017. The Finance and Management Workshop organized by the African School of Economics (ASE) and financed by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) continued at the SOS Children's Village in Abomey-Calavi. The program included two modules: Project Management I taught by Professor Lavagnon Ika from the University of Ottawa and the second session of Financial Risk Analysis taught by Professor Issouf Soumaré from Laval University.

Using concrete examples drawn from reality, Professor Lavagnon Ika was able to illustrate the problems (such as exceeding its budget) that a project usually encounters, and how such problems ultimately affect the performance of the project.

Professor Soumaré’s presentation was also very informative and engaging. He outlined the importance of considering measures such as Net Present Value and Internal Rate of Return when making investment decisions for a project. He also discussed how to determine the monetary flows of a project and presented practical cases that allowed participants to practice and better understand some of the concepts. Both sessions were very interesting, interactive and practical. Thay have certainly set a positive tone for the next few days of presentations.