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Léonard Wantchékon

James Madison Professor of political economy at Princeton University
Honorary Doctorate in Economics

In the late 1980s, a Beninese man submitted an unusual application for admission to the master’s program in economics at Université Laval. Despite his lack of a university degree, he was accepted on account of his resilience and determination. His academic rigour was such that several years later, he became one of the first people of African origin to be appointed to the faculty of a U.S. Ivy League university.

Léonard Wantchékon was studying mathematics at university in 1985 when he was imprisoned and tortured for a year and a half for his opposition to Beninese dictator Mathieu Kérékou. After coming to Canada as a political refugee, he earned a master’s degree from Université Laval in 1990, a second master’s from the University of British Columbia in 1992, and a PhD under the supervision of Nobel laureate Roger Myerson at Northwestern University in Illinois, where he specialized in political economy. He was hired as a professor of political science at Yale University in 1995, then at New York University in 2001, and lastly at Princeton University in 2011.

Professor Wantchékon’s research deals with political economy, economy history, and economic development. His 150-odd scholarly publications, which draw upon mathematical and statistical models to help explain political, social, and economic phenomena such as clientelism and slavery, are widely cited and have had a profound influence in these fields. He is recognized as a leading researcher by his peers for his pioneering work in the conduct of randomized controlled trials in the fields of economics and politics and is a member of the prestigious Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Proud of his origins and a tireless advocate for research and higher education in Africa, Professor Wantchékon founded the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy in 2004. The Institute’s success led to the founding of the African School of Economics, which offers top quality master's programs.