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Africa in focus

In memory of Mwangi Samson Kimenyi

Professor Mwangi S. Kimenyi, senior fellow and former director of the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI), passed away on Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Professor Kimenyi was the heart and soul of the Africa Growth Initiative, something that all of us care about. He believed very much in AGI’s mission, its work, and perhaps, more importantly, its people. His scholarship and work ethic were only matched by his dedication to the AGI team and the issues that we were (and are) striving to accomplish.

Professor Kimenyi not only cared about the right things, but he was also keen about addressing them and doing so in the right way, no matter how difficult or challenging. In many ways, if the world worked like this, the world would be a much better place for all of us to live. In all AGI activities, Professor Kimenyi tried to bring people together, help colleagues advance their careers, and nurture the expertise that is needed in the long term.

Professor Kimenyi dedicated himself to utilizing the resources and prestige of the Brookings Institution to enhance governance, peaceful coexistence, the protection of human rights—especially those of vulnerable groups—and economic and human development in Africa. During his short tenure at AGI and the Brookings Institution, he achieved a lot. Through his leadership and thanks to the generosity of the Brookings Institution, AGI has contributed significantly to the improvement of the policy environment in Africa, as well as to a better understanding of African issues by U.S. policymakers.

Professor Kimenyi was an accomplished man: Before he came to AGI and Brookings, Professor Kimenyi was a professor at the University of Mississippi and the University of Connecticut. He was the founding executive director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA, 1999-2005); a resource person with the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC); and a research associate with the Center for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford. Professor Kimenyi earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Nairobi (Kenya), and completed graduate work at Ohio University and George Mason University. He received a Ph.D. in economics  from the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University in 1986.

Through his research, he sought to enhance governance and economic development in Africa. He was especially interested in poverty reduction, pro-poor economic growth, and peaceful coexistence on the continent. He authored or co-edited eight books, many policy monographs, and several chapters in edited volumes. He also published many papers in refereed journals.

Professor Kimenyi was also the recipient of many honors and awards, including the Outstanding Research Award (2001) from the Global Development Network, and the Georgescu-Roegen Prize in Economics (1991). He was recognized by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Mississippi for his work on the public transit system. In 1994, Professor Kimenyi was named by Policy Review (Washington, D.C.) among the top 10 young market economists in the United States. During his tenure as the executive director of KIPPRA, the institute was ranked the top policy institution in Africa and was recognized as an international center of excellence.

At KIPPRA, he believed in and promoted excellence, leading the institute from its founding in 1999 to Africa’s premier research and policy institution by the time he left in 2005. KIPPRA remains an important and influential source of policy advice for Kenya and the region, thanks to the solid foundation laid by Professor Kimenyi.

He was not afraid to criticize or be controversial when he believed that something important needed to be said. In many of the blogs that he wrote about policy issues in Africa, for example, he challenged President Obama and his administration to take a more active part in Africa. He rebuked the government of South Sudan for its decision to ban all foreign workers from the country and replace them with nationals—a decision that Professor Kimenyi argued would undermine badly needed foreign investment. Nevertheless, in seeking to hold governments accountable, Professor Kimenyi was professional, respectful, and polite.

Despite his extraordinary professional and academic accomplishments, Professor Kimenyi was humble, extremely kind, and loyal to his friends and colleagues. I have worked very closely with Professor Kimenyi on projects in Africa since 1986, and have often been taken aback by the patient and kind manner in which Professor Kimenyi treated young scholars who approached him and asked him to help them further their education or research.

I can recall a particularly memorable incident at Mount Kenya in 2002: We were at the Mount Kenya Lodge to consult with then-vice president of Kenya, Professor George Saitoti, who was working on his vision for holistic development in Africa. While we were eating breakfast, a couple of young people recognized Professor Kimenyi and came to talk to him about their plans for graduate school. He patiently talked to each one of them, gathered as much information from them, gave each person that he talked to his business card, and promised to contact them once he had an opportunity to research their issues further. Despite the fact that his breakfast was going cold, he calmly advised these young people and told them that it was important that they remained hopeful because they held the future of Kenya in their hands. He was truly inspiring. Of course, during nearly 30 years of friendship with me, he remained a loyal and supportive friend to me and my family.

There is no question that Professor Kimenyi was a talented and well-regarded economist. Nevertheless, his colleagues, students, and the many people whom he worked with and whose lives he touched will remember him more for his kindness, warmth, and willingness to mentor younger scholars.

Professor Kimenyi’s untimely passing is a great loss, not only to his colleagues and friends at AGI, but also to the many scholars whom he has mentored in Africa and around the world. He will be greatly missed, not only at AGI, but also at the many institutions that he has worked with to improve economic and human development in Africa.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. May his soul rest in peace.


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