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Moussa P. Blimpo Interview, Economist at the World Bank

Moussa P. Blimpo

Moussa P. Blimpo is an Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist for the Africa Region at the World Bank.

Which parts of the conference have resonated with you and the work you are doing?

Before joining the world bank most of my work was in the area of human capital accumulation, particularly on education policies. When I joined the World Bank, one of the first assignments on which I worked was on energy access. I have also led analytical work on how to leverage technologies to help solve development issues fast, an area of growing interest to our work.

Above all, at the World Bank, we are a powerhouse for knowledge and knowledge generation, but the implementation is sometimes difficult. We have great ideas, but then you need to get the implementation right.

Given this background, what resonated with me at this conference, is the realization that the processes of institutions matter and that we shouldn’t just focus on the outcome of the projects. Even a failed project could have contributed itself to shape a better institution at a community level. Paying more attention to these processes can help develop better institutions over time and also help us with the implementation of our projects.

Why did you think it was important to come to this conference?

I am from Togo. I went to high school in Togo and went to France for my undergraduate. I then joined New York University for my graduate education. Leonard Wantchekon, then at Yale University, was being hired by NYU.

Normally, in this situation, professors discuss and negotiate their salaries and research funds. One important thing that Leonard negotiated with the university was to allow him to bring one African student a year to do a Master’s programme at NYU. That’s the kind of person he is, and that’s how deep-rooted his passion is for building capacity and advancing knowledge as the basis for the development of the continent.

I’m one of the first students who took advantage of this opportunity. I didn’t know him before, I just came across the opportunity, and he took me on and guided me. I now have a PhD in economics from NYU, and that would never have happened without him because I was studying mathematics and statistics and it never crossed my mind that I could study economics of political sciences.

Why is the African School of Economics so unique?

At this point, all African scholars should consider the African School of Economics as their house. This is our home. This should be the same for all scholars working on Africa. This is the place where ideas should converge. Look at the student body. In Benin, a Francophone country, you see students from Cameroon, from Burkina Faso, from Côte d’Ivoire, from all over Africa, coming to this English-speaking institution. You can see what this institution is achieving. It’s not just about technical training – which is very important for Leonard Wantchekon, but it’s also about building networks and exchanging ideas among African leaders of the future. This is very encouraging, and we all need to do more to support the ASE. Anyone serious about capacity building in Africa would support initiatives like the ASE, period!

What role can the African School of Economics play in shaping global economics?

That is the aim of the African School of Economics (ASE). The ASE is not only aiming to attract African students; they have come from other continents. I would invite students from other continents, who want to learn and contribute to African development, to seriously consider coming and spend a term or two at the African School of Economics. Over the lunchtime, I met an American student who was all excited to start his MBA next term right here at the ASE.

Of course, that at the moment the student body is dominated by Africans doesn’t mean that the object of the ASE is to focus only on Africa. The focus of the ASE is knowledge and a contribution to the common good and common prosperity of the world.

What is your outlook for the African economy?

There is a huge aspirational gap between what we expect and what is happening on the ground. Because of that, we don’t appreciate the progress that is being made as much as we should. You can see that across the board in governance, education, and many sectors.

You can see all around the continent young people coming up with innovative ideas to address development issues. Where we are failing so far is to take inspiring and successful pilots and take them to scale. Once we start filling that gap, we’ll see a much larger transformation.

We often amplify negative stories and let that dominate the narrative. The sad part of this is that this attitude has a huge cost on the continent and we ought to stop and take a more objective view of the state of the continent. The idea that a crisis in one country should affect the prospect of another country thousands of miles away is not only stupid and lazy thinking; it is downright dangerous.

Is the World Bank keen to attract African economists?

The World Bank is a multilateral institution, and all the member countries are represented. In fact, many former students of the ASE and IREEP, are contributing in a positive and significant way to the World Bank’s work. The World Bank understands that the diversity of ideas is a strength and if you don’t have that you are much more prone to repeating mistakes without ever becoming aware of it.

When I come to conferences like this, it is an opportunity for me to talk to students, tell them what we are doing, and try and inspire them to participate.

For example, we are running a programme in my unit at the World Bank that is targeting exclusively African students who are about to finish their PhDs or are within two years of having finished it. We give them the opportunity to come for six months to the World Bank. They get to contribute to our work, learn about what we are doing, and some will develop an interest in joining the World Bank. The programme is called the African Fellowship Programme.