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Charter Cities Podcast Episode 21: Founding a Pan-African University with Leonard Wantchekon

From fleeing Benin for his pro-democracy activism to becoming a renowned Princeton professor and founding one of Africa’s most prestigious universities, Leonard Wantchekon’s life is as impressive as his economic and political research. Today we speak with Leonard and explore his story, academic work, and how he founded the African School of Economics (ASE). After sharing details about his early life in Benin, including how he escaped his unjust imprisonment, Leonard discusses how his personal life has informed his research. We then dive into his research into clientelism and voting behavior, slavery’s prevailing influence on Benin culture, and how environmental factors can drive achievement within a community of learners. A key theme in this episode, we then ask Leonard about how he founded ASE. His answers highlight practical steps that he took along with the challenges that he overcame. Later, we talk about why he uses ASE’s reputation as the benchmark for its success, his aim to link the disparate African academic community, and his plans to create a curriculum that he can export to other universities. Near the end of our conversation, we touch on Leonard’s other influences and passions. Tune in for insights on what it takes to build a top university and to hear Leonard’s incredible story. 

Transcript (edited for clarity):

Mark: Hello and welcome to the Charter Cities Podcast. I’m your host, Mark Lutter, the founder and executive director of the Charter Cities institute. On the Charter Cities Podcast we illuminate the various aspects of building a charter city, from governance to urban planning, politics to finance. We hope listeners to the Charter Cities Podcast will come away with a deep understanding of Charter Cities as well as the steps necessary to build them. You can subscribe and learn more about Charter Cities at Follow us on social media, CCIdotCity on Twitter, and Charter Cities Institute on Facebook. Thank you for listening.

[This transcript will be made available in the coming days.]

Mark: Thank you for listening to the Charter Cities Podcast. For more information about this episode and our guest, to subscribe to the show or to connect with the Charter Cities Institute, please visit Follow us on social media, CCIdotCity on Twitter and Charter Cities Institute on Facebook. I’m your host, Mark Lutter, and thank you for listening to the Charter Cities Podcast.

Links mentioned in today’s episode:

Leonard Wantchekon

Leonard Wantchekon on Twitter

The African School of Economics

Nathan Nunn

Episode with Nathan Nunn

Mathieu Kérékou

Laval University

The University of British Columbia

Northwestern University

Karl Marx

Das Kapital

Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom on Amazon

‘The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa’

Donald Greene


World Bank

African Development Bank

Bocconi University

The Pennsylvania State University


The Pan-African Research Council

Joe Henrich

Jeffrey Sachs

Jared Diamond

Daron Acemoğlu

James Robinson

Paul Romer

Edward Glaeser

Arthur Lewis

Otto von Bismarck

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