In Memoriam: Benno Ndulu

It was with great sadness that we received the news of the passing of Professor Benno Ndulu, Chair of the WIDER Board, and long-time collaborator and friend of the Institute. To celebrate his life, his many achievements, his kindness and good-will, we reflect on his time with UNU-WIDER and share some warm words from across the WIDER Network. 

Benno Ndulu at L2C 2013
Benno Ndulu at the 2013 L2C conference in Helsinki, Finland. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO

‘Benno Ndulu’s untimely passing away is an irreplaceable loss to UNU-WIDER, and to the development economics community at large. As Chair of the WIDER Board, he could always be relied on for constructive advice and constant engagement with UNU-WIDER’s mission. For me, personally, it is a moment of great sorrow, and I will cherish the many happy memories of my meetings with Benno over the past few years. He was a remarkably gifted economist, equally comfortable in the worlds of academia and policy, and a very fine human being. We will miss him greatly.’ – Kunal Sen, Director UNU-WIDER. 

Fellow WIDER Board Member (2009–19) Ravi Kanbur recalls his ‘great delight’ when Benno accepted a spot on WIDER’s Board, even more so when he agreed to take over as Chair. On a personal note, he adds, ‘I will miss Benno as an economist, a colleague, a friend and a wise and generous counsel.’ 

Benno will be missed by many UNU-WIDER colleagues, past and present. While his role as Chair of the WIDER Board had brought him closer than ever in recent years, constantly engaged and providing valuable advice, he had been involved with the institute from the very early days. Benno began by working with Lance Taylor and Gerry Helleiner in 1986 on the Stabilization and adjustment policies and programmes project, and contributed to the seminal book, The Rocky Road to Reform. He went on to contribute to three other UNU-WIDER books and joined many of the events over the years, including as a keynote speaker at the Learning to L2C – Learning to Compete conference in 2013. 

WIDER Board 2019
The WIDER Board, 2019. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO

Across more than three decades working with UNU-WIDER, Benno imprinted on those he worked with inspiration and admiration. In the words of Gerry Helleiner ‘Benno Ndulu, a quiet, decent and self-effacing man, was undoubtedly the most effective and influential of the African economists of his generation… (He) earned the respect and friendship of hundreds of economists both in Africa and throughout the world.’ 

Benno Ndulu
Benno Ndulu at the 2018 Think Development Think WIDER conference in Helsinki, Finland 

Benno will be remembered for not only his highly respected publications, his time as Governor of the Central Bank of Tanzania and Lead Economist at the World Bank, along with his legacy of establishing and developing the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), but also his work as a teacher and mentor to young African scholars, and trusted partner to many in the development field. As Haroon Bhorat, Director of the Development Policy Research Unit at the School of Economics, University of Cape Town notes, he will be remembered as ‘truly one of the founders of the African economics community, doing so much in the early years of the AERC, to guide the continent’s young economists through their careers. His steady, sage advice is going to be sorely missed.  What a huge loss for the continent’. 

Vincent Leyaro, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics of the University of Dar es Salaam, reminisces on Benno’s legacies in establishing the AERC and shaping economic reforms in Africa in the 1980s, concluding ‘he remains the most distinguished and iconic scholar of Tanzania and Africa of all times. Benno is and will remain to be one of the most respected of Africa’s economists who combined academic rigour with policy relevancy like few other economists. As a colleague, Benno to many has been one of the finest individuals. He will be missed greatly.’ 

Blandina Kilama of REPOA remembers him as a ‘a dedicated mentor, a humorous “father”, and a passionate researcher’, adding ‘Prof Ndulu was globally known but local at heart. His passion for nurturing talent coupled with strategic yet inclusive leadership meant that he was accessible to the young and old alike’. 

‘Benno was known in the profession not only for his outstanding research skills, but also for his genuine warmth. He was one of the first African researchers to build bridges between research and policy. Africa has lost one of its lions’, adds Tony Addison, UNU-WIDER Senior Researcher.  

Former Director of UNU-WIDER, and long-time collaborator with Benno, Finn Tarp goes on to add ‘Benno was one of my closest personal friends — and an outstanding professional colleague since 1988. A truly wise man and states man, with a sharp intellect and with an absolutely disarming humour. He made everyone around him feel comfortable.’ 

Benno will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by UNU-WIDER and the WIDER Network.