Obiageli Ezekwesili is an economic policy expert and was a candidate for the office of the President of Nigeria in the 2019 elections. Prior to that, she was Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa division and Nigerian Minister of Education. She also co-founded Transparency International as well as the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Obiageli Ezekwesili was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
What will you be working on as a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy?
I will work on a mix of academic and experiential activities to produce a deeper understanding of the nexus between the quality of politics and the economic progress or decline of nations. I will probe the effect that the poor quality of politics in a country has on governance, sound economic policies, growth, development, and slow poverty decline in Africa generally and Nigeria in particular. The academic component will be complimented with practical learning from my interactions in the German political and economic ecosystems.
What are you trying to achieve? How will that idea or project be continued after your fellowship?
My fellowship will study, diagnose, and evaluate the quality of Africa’s politics and political class in order to enable it to innovate through the #FixPolitics initiative. The objective of the initiative is to identify and implement solutions addressing the root causes in Africa’s political economy that are chiefly responsible for the slow pace of the continent’s economic development and very poor standard of living. Simply put, the findings from my fellowship program will be used to design a structural-change agenda for the politics and polity of Nigeria in particular. Evidence from several academic research and studies already broadly show that politics and the economy are strongly correlated. Nowhere has this become more obvious than in Africa and in especially my country, Nigeria. My hypothesis is that of all the many determinants of the nation-building process, it is the prevalent nature of politics, political incentives, and institutions in a country that either accelerate, stagnate or regress the prosperity of a country and its citizens. Whenever politics consistently trumps economics, societies tend to severely entrench poverty and that appears to explain why Africa remains stuck in the development process. I therefore intend to use analytics, case study, study groups, simulation and experimentation to verify this and then design the outlines of the #FixPolitics vision that will be implemented over the next three years. The aim is to be deliberate and intentional in increasing the chances of good governance, sound economic policies, growth and development that will materially reduce poverty and create the pathway for the emergence of a prosperous Africa. The gamut of knowledge generated from my fellowship will be shared on the #FixPoliticsDotOrg platform to help build a continent-wide momentum that will help innovate Africa’s politics. A #RescuePlan shall ultimately emerge from this for our countries and continent.
What are you expecting to learn during your fellowship? Which insights will help you to develop your project?
Today, the poverty impact of Africa’s slow path to development is that almost 450 million people live below the global poverty line and account for more than 70 percent of the world’s poorest people. Poor economic performance of large population countries like Nigeria, which despite their huge endowment of natural and human resources struggle to grow sufficiently enough to rapidly reduce poverty quicker calls for serious research focus. The experiential component of my fellowship will focus on learning from the experience of Germany, which successfully rebuilt its politics, polity and institutions from ground zero at the end of the Second World War in 1945. The strong and exceptionally stable political context that enabled Germany build a solid economy which is the world’s fourth largest and Europe’s biggest presents a matter of academic and practical curiosity that I wish to interrogate. There is much useful insight to be gained in learning how Germany has managed a stable political environment and persistently bucked several global and regional economic crises thereby delivering enviable standard of living for most Germans.
Why did you accept the invitation to stay as Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy?
Following my unique experience in running for office for the first time as a candidate in the 2019 presidential election, I concluded that it is urgent to innovate Nigeria, or better said Africa’s politics as a whole. Without this, good governance will continue to elude the people. I saw the offer of the Richard von Weizsäcker Fellowship as the auspicious opportunity to kickstart a citizens-led effort to affect an analytically rooted structural transformation of the continent’s politics and polity. I therefore decided to invest a few months of “balcony moment” to embark on a knowledge-generating program that is a mix of academic and practical work. Among options available to me were fellowships in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. I however decided on the Richard von Weizsäcker Fellowship at the Robert Bosch Academy because it most suits my interest in getting a deeper understanding of the politics and economy of Germany, and its relevance and adaptability to countries in Africa, especially Nigeria.
What are your expectations for living in Berlin and Germany?
Germany—especially Berlin—is highly regarded as one of the top global hubs for all kinds of knowledge and innovations in diverse sectors of society. Some describe Berlin as “one giant university”. I therefore consider Berlin, at this time, to be the best location that gives me leverage of its deep intellectual and collaborative networks. Berlin’s and Germany’s vast knowledge base and networks in politics and economy are very relevant to the vision of #FixPolitics for my continent.
The certainty of access to such a vast world of knowledge, partnerships and friendships makes me very excited to spend a few months in Berlin/Germany working on the most important venture of my life as a technocrat committed to leading innovation in politics. I am now totally committed to #FixPolitics and will dedicate the rest of my life to mobilizing citizens for the emergence of a new kind and higher order of politics that puts the people first, in my continent and country.
This is why Berlin and Germany currently hold a strong appeal for me that other comparable cities and countries do not match at this time.