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Remembering Tanzania’s Prof. Benno Ndulu

The Upright Economist

Former governor of Tanzania’s central bank, the Bank of Tanzania, Prof. Benno Ndulu or Benno, as he was commonly referred to by colleagues and friends alike, was a kind and deeply-knowledgeable economist with the highest integrity. He has been described as an economist who in addition to his solid knowledge of economics was keenly aware of the politics of implementing a country’s economic development agenda.

This is why Benno was instrumental in many efforts around the governance of natural resource rents in Tanzania among the improvement of institutional design to enable Africa’s economic transformation that would entail inclusive fast economic growth. Benno, because of this, was very successful in providing effective economic advice to various African leaders including Tanzania’s then-President Jakaya Kikwete.

The Capacity Builder

Benno, more importantly, was instrumental in building the capacity of generations of African economists and has been described by the Chief Economist for the Africa Region at the World Bank, Dr. Albert Zeufack, as “…a big brother to me and to many economists on the continent…[and] he influenced many of us and remained the trusted advisor, the wise man we all went to for advice.” In this endeavor, Benno helped found the African Economic Research Consortium, serving as its inaugural African Research Director and later Executive Director. As an academic at the University of Dar es Salaam’s Economics Department, Benno has among his former students the current Finance Minister of Tanzania, Philip Mpango, as well as many academic economists in Tanzania and beyond.

The Economic Advisor

In addition to his numerous efforts in capacity building, Benno’s work as economic policy advisor both as governor of Tanzania’s central bank but also as economic advisor to South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Ahmed Abiy. Benno also helped found the Chief Economists of Government (CEoG) initiative that is funded through the Think Africa Partnership, whose Steering Committee Benno sat at during his multifaceted engagement with the World Bank. CEoG is a network of chief economic advisors from over 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Benno, as co-founder and expert member of the network, provided advice and feedback to current chief economic advisors, and was working with us at CEoG, along with a couple of other emeritus members, to document his own experience as chief economic advisor to governments across the continent. We have been collecting these views into a “Handbook of Economic Advisory in Africa” that would be used for current and future chief economic advisors across Africa and beyond. As Albert Zeufack has recently remarked, although we will struggle to complete this work without Benno, we must nevertheless finish it in his honor.

Benno, in addition to being kind, was a highly competent economist who presided over sustained fast economic growth of around 7% per year and a reduction of poverty of 8 percentage points during his tenure as central bank governor. His approach to the economic advisory role to presidents has been one of understanding the political incentives faced by the executive or as he called it, putting himself “…in the shoes of the person I’m advising.” Benno also helped with economy-wide reforms that included the establishment of Tanzania’s Revenue Authority tasked with mobilizing domestic resources.

Our Friend

One of his colleagues, Sir Paul Collier, a British development economist who serves as Professor of Economics and Public Policy in the Blavatnik School of Government and director of the International Growth Centre, recounted recently at a webinar organized by CEoG that provides chief economic advisors from among our member countries an opportunity to present their COVID-19 economic recovery plans, that Benno had an uncanny ability to relate not just with presidents but also cared about young children including Paul’s son whom Benno once gifted with a toy.

Many colleagues at CEoG, the World Bank Group, and elsewhere have countless stories of how Benno was kind to them including being generous with his time and knowledge. Benno died, at the age of 71, on February 22nd, 2021 in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. We, at CEoG, miss him very much.

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