Monday August 21- Tuesday August 22, 2017.  

At the brand new campus in Arconville, ASE students had the unique opportunity to attend a Political Economy seminar given by ASE’s President Léonard Wantchekon. The seminar took place for two days and covered a multitude of topics, including how game theory is used to capture the election process. Professor Wantchekon also explained “the median voter model”, the phenomenon of electoral competition under the threat of political unrest, and the congressional influence on bureaucracy, democracy, and clientelism in Africa. The interactive and discussion based seminar helped ASE students gain a better understanding of the Political Economy and its importance in subsequent development research on the continent. 

 

On Thursday, July 17th 2017, the African School of Economics had the honor to welcome Professor Yves Atchade from the University of Michigan, a PhD in statistics with expertise in computational statistics, invited by Prof. Léonard Wantchékon, who introduced him to the audience.

Professor Atchade demonstrated why statistics is not just about graphs and figures, but is relevant and applicable to a wide range of fields. Big data, machine learning, and neuronal network applications are some examples of how statistics is transforming the world. Research has even found that current day, data scientists, statisticians and machine learning experts are globally among the most remunerated professions.

Overall, the presentation and discussion gave ASE students the opportunity to learn about computational statistics, a new subject for many, and its application to a variety of disciplines. Furthermore, students were able to ask their most pressing questions and discuss computational statistics with a highly regarded expert in the field.

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” was more effective in villages where the candidate did not have a political stronghold and vice versa. After presenting the paper, ASE students took the floor by asking questions about the implications of this experiment in the broader context of the political environment in Benin and generally, 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."