Looking Back: Oby Ezekwesili

Obiageli "Oby" Ezekwesili, former Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa division and co-founder of Transparency International, darts a look at her fellowship at the Robert Bosch Academy.

Looking back, how would you assess your fellowship at the Robert Bosch Academy?

I set out to design a template for the structural change of the politics, political culture, and outcomes of countries in Africa, especially Nigeria. Today, months after my Fellowship, plans are proceeding well enough, although slowed down by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The design for the structural change of Nigeria’s politics follows from the findings of my study, diagnostics, and evaluations of the nexus between the quality of national politics and the economic progress of countries, using the experience of post-World War II Germany as a case study. The Fellowship inspired an epiphany that shed much light on Nigeria’s political history and the dismal economic performance of the country since its independence in 1960.

The Robert Bosch Academy provided me the mix of academic and experiential opportunities necessary for the range of work that culminated in my evidence-based road map with its four pillars:

  1. Democracy deficit is exemplified by countries that transition from authoritarian regimes to democratic governments but fail to deliver an improved quality of life to their people and thereby gradually lose public legitimacy.
  2. Among several factors, it is the quality of politics of countries that fundamentally determines governance, which in turn improves or deteriorates a people’s quality of life. Therefore, any quest for good governance must start with improvement in a society’s political culture, incentives, and outcomes.
  3. To achieve improved governance, a structural and systemicapproach that mirrors the economic concept of market structure, which determines levels of competition, is applicable.
  4. The degree of competition in a country’s politics is determined by: the engagement of the citizens as an informed and active electorate; the quality of the political class and politicians who vie for elective offices; and the institutional integrity of the political regulatory system and context.
     

What were the most important experiences during your fellowship?

The October 2019 round table that the Academy hosted in Berlin for select members of the Work Study Group that I established to co-lead the design of the #FixPoliticsInitiative as well as the conference co-hosted in Lagos were defining moments. The two events helped build a strong constituency and credible public ownership of the mission of #FixPolitics.

The experiential component of my Fellowship stood out for me. The Academy was exceptional in identifying the right range of political and economic sector leaders in Germany for me to interact with and interview. The over 20 meetings significantly enriched my knowledge of the post-World War II experience of Germany, and the development of its political institutions and economy.

Complementary to the one-on-one meetings were the many public speaking events that I headlined or participated in across Berlin and other cities in Germany. The debates at the events were usually candid and healthy, the kind that help build strong open societies. They provided crucial opportunities for me to learn about the German citizens and their role in the development of their democracy and economy.

I will remember the Academy, Berlin, and Germany as the incubation hub of the #FixPolitics initiative and as a guiding light for evaluating our citizens-led vision in the coming years as we course-correct our flailing democracy and arrested development. 
 

How did you perceive the fellow community?

 The Academy’s strong selection of Fellows promoted a deep learning opportunity among us. The diversity of knowledge and experiences made discussions exceedingly insightful in terms of depth and breadth. Some of my colleagues were researching issues that intersected with my area of focus and so our Tuesday and Thursday lunch discussions enriched my research though global lenses. A testament of how useful the relationships were is that I continue to interact with some of my colleagues who have since become close friends in mutual support of our works.

The Academy-on-Tour events such as the one to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania also provided very important learning opportunities for me not only from the wider network of Fellows who participated but from the cities, issues, leaders, and citizens we interacted with at each event. The eclectic composition of the RBA Fellows background enriches the global perspective on issues that affect our world and helped nurture tolerance and understanding while respectfully acknowledging differences in opinions.
 

What did you learn about Germany and Berlin during your stay?

My Fellowship coincided with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and sharpened my knowledge and appreciation of how much a country and its people can change in 30 years. My stay helped expand the scope of my discovery, namely that German reunification remains a journey with multiple destinations. No society has evolved to a place of political and economic Eldorado. Berlin will always be the European city that I can most comfortably reside in outside of home because of the sheer range of intellectually rewarding networks it opened up to me since my first stint in the early 90s when we co-founded Transparency International.

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