By Yonas Biru*
In 2013, Elaine Colville, a British national and former World Bank staff wrote a revealing article titled “US and EU ignore plight of blacks at World Bank.” The article lamented that with European and North American countries “controlling the overwhelming majority of the voting rights of the World Bank, there is very little African governments can do to protect the rights of their citizens in the World Bank, even if minded to do so.”
In 2015, Reverend Jesse Jackson, America’s iconic civil rights leader, took the matter several notches higher and published an open letter to Pope Francis “on behalf of those whose human dignity has been breached and whose cries for justice have been ignored.”
The letter that was widely published and formally submitted to the Pope through the Archbishop of Chicago provided compelling evidence of the systemic exclusion of Africa as a continent and Africans as human beings from participation in international forums even in areas that determine their destiny. The letter used the World Bank as a manifestation of the race-based international world order.
The Reverend revered the Pope: “Your Holiness, speaking of the ills of economic and social exclusions you stated that ‘exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes – they are no longer even a part of it. I cannot think of a more compelling prophetic voice than yours to speak against institutionalized racial discrimination in global organizations such as the World Bank and against the virtual exclusion of over a billion Africans from global economic forums such as the Group of Twenty (G-20).”
To date, neither the silenced voice of a billion Africans in the G-20 nor the unheard cries for justice of those dehumanized in international organizations has won the compassion of the Pope enough to compel him to speak up on their behalf. The Reverend’s closing line “I await for your blessed actions in high hopes and unshakable faith” remains unshakably hopeful.
SIGNATURE DNA MARKERS OF INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM IN THE WORLD BANK
Numerous World Bank reports indicate that the Bank’s “systemic race-based discrimination” draws its energy from a confluence of two undercurrents: biological predisposition and business consideration.
The biological predisposition school of thought puts Africans on the wrong side of the staff spread along the IQ continuum. In 1998, one of the Bank’s studies “revealed cultural prejudice among some managers, who rate Africans as inferior.” In 2003, another Bank commissioned study took note that “there is a deep-seated attitude that Blacks are not bright or competent and therefore they should not expect to work on the front lines of the [Bank’s] business.”
The business consideration excuse has it that some regions do not accept Blacks at positions of influence. As noted in the Bank’s 1998 official memorandum, “the Bank does not know how the client will react to a black, and it cannot take the risk.” This has led to the segregation (“ghettoization”) of Blacks in the Africa region. In 2005, the Association urged the Bank’s Board to “address seriously the issue of ’ghettoization” to no avail.
THE HISTORY IS INDISPUTABLE AND THE NUMBERS DO NOT LIE
The Bank’s history both before and during Dr. Jim Yong Kim’s presidency shows a race-based system swayed by the aforementioned two undercurrents.
Before Dr. Kim’s reorganization, the Bank’s intellectual and managerial heavy-lifting were done under 19 offices, including (i) six regional vice presidential units; (ii) six regional chief economists housed under regional VPs; and (iii) seven central vice presidential complexes.
Managers leading the 19 offices provided intellectual leadership and direction to the Bank’s overall development strategy, economic research agenda, and program implementation practices at global, regional and country levels.
In the Bank’s seven decades of history, no Black person has ever led any of the 19 offices, with the exception of the African vice presidential unit where Black managers are “ghettoized.” By contrast, Asians, Cauacians, Middle Easterns, and Latin Americans have led several of the 19 offices throughout the Bank’s history.
Soon after Dr. Kim took the helm, he reorganized the Bank, embracing a “new” operational model aimed at meeting two overarching strategic goals: “end extreme poverty by 2030 and promote shared prosperity, focusing on the income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in each country.”
The new operational model is anchored on a global matrix that maps the Bank’s expertise into 14 global practices across all six regions, and five cross-cutting themes that are focused on global issues. The operational reforms called for a new skill mix – both at the professional and managerial levels.
The Bank’s Article of Agreement states: “In appointing the officers and staff the President shall, subject to the paramount importance of securing the highest standards of efficiency and of technical competence, pay due regard to the importance of recruiting personnel on as wide a geographical basis as possible.”
The Bank’s data shows 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty; more than a third live in Sub Saharan Africa. If the Bank’s Article of Agreement holds, Africans would have significant representation in the leadership of the new organizational framework.
On April 3, 2014, Dr. Kim appointed 16 senior directors “to lead” and serve as “the pillar” of the new organizational structure to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity, challenges more prevalent in Africa than any other region. The 16 senior directors included, 7 Caucasians, 6 Latin Americans and 3 Asians. Not a single black was appointed, allegedly because there was not “a qualified black applicant in the application pool.”
As noted in the April 25, 2014 issue of Devex Newsletter, the media platform for the global development community, Dr. Kim “abruptly left a meeting with African finance ministers who sit on the board of governors after being asked why not a single African is among the new senior directors.”
This was a revealing display of international racism in its raw elements. It is hard to imagine him storming out of a meeting with European, Asian or Latin American Board of Governors. That would have been his last day in office.
The next day he issued a written apology to the African dignitaries and promised to hire more Africans to join his senior management team.
Since then, he has hired one senior director and three Sub-Saharan African vice presidents. All three VPs are consigned to low-profile positions of non-influence, maintaining the Bank’s race-based hierarchy.
Together, the three newly-minted African VPs have 35 grade F (GF) level professional staff. By comparison, the VP for development economics alone has 120. Other VPs have even more than 120.
The three African VPs do not fare any better when compared to Dr. Kim’s senior directors in terms of institutional influence or staff resources. Nor do they measure up to most of the Bank’s run of the mill country directors. The country director for Egypt has 58 GF level staff. The one for Indonesia has 73.
If the GF level employees are considered as the Bank’s professional workhorse, the GH level lead experts would be seen as its brain power. Two of the three African VPs have zero GH level staff. There is no intellectual work done under them; hence the reason. The VP for development economics has 35 GH level staff. The country director for Kenya has 7.
LET US BE BLUNT
If indeed the Bank’s staffing decisions are made based on objective criteria, following the Articles of Agreement, its personnel history reveals one of the following. Either people of African origin are innately inferior and incapable of taking leadership positions, or the Bank is an inherently racist institution that has proven to be incapable of reforming itself.
The Bank’s 2003 most comprehensive report on racial inclusion had this to say. “The root causes of differences in career outcomes are anti-inclusion social and psychological processes inadequately constrained by a workplace’s organizational culture and HR management practices.” The latest 2015 diversity report reiterated the same findings. Such general statements mask the ugly nature of the institution’s racial underbelly.
Let us take a closer look at Dr. Ibrahim El Badawi’s case to shift the discussion from abstract statistics and institutional culture to a discourse about human experience. The story is grafted from a previously published report that has been cleared by the aggrieved staff.
Dr. El Badawi, a Sudanese national, was the Bank’s leading expert on the economics of civil wars and conflicts. He directed four major research projects on the subject during 1999-2008 that produced more than 30 research papers, three books, two special editions of journals, and several policy and operational products.
He was the task manager of the World Bank’s flagship study “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?” In 2009, he applied to become regional chief economist for Africa. He was the only Sub Saharan African to make the short-list, but the position was given to another candidate. Disappointed but undeterred, he applied for chief economist position for North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) region.
Having gone through a very extensive competitive process, he was short-listed, interviewed by two different high-level panels chaired by different managing directors, and selected as the best qualified candidate for the position. His appointment was stopped by former President Robert Zoellick, who insisted that the Bank “can do even better” and instructed his senior management team to reopen the competition process and find a candidate with “a better name recognition in the MENA region.”
After the Bank failed to find a candidate with knowledge of the MENA region, the Bank dropped the requirements altogether. Obviously, a candidate without knowledge of the region cannot have name recognition in the region. Therefore, it, too, was dropped from the criteria and the position was given to another candidate who was an unknown quantity in the MENA region with no or little expertise on its economic development issues.
If appointed, Dr. El Badawi would have been the first regional chief economist of African descent since the inception of the World Bank 70 years ago. Did the Bank “do even better” by selecting a candidate who did not meet the aforementioned selection criteria over Dr. El Badawi? The answer is a resounding no! Dr. El Badawi’s complaint was summarily dismissed by the Tribunal.
Obviously, systemic racism does not exist in a vacuum for seven decades. It requires an enabling institutional environment. The World Bank exists beyond the reach of the US justice system. It is answerable only to an internal Tribunal that is beholden to management, lock, stock and barrel.
Since it was established in 1980, the Tribunal has summarily dismissed every racial discrimination claim filed by Black claimants. The statistics do not begin to tell half the story of the Tribunal’s systemic, deliberate and criminal violation of the due process rights of people of African origin.
I will share my own experience. Some of what I am sharing is personal and humiliating, but humiliation is a cost that I willfully embrace to expose the Tribunal’s racist jurisprudence that should have no place in the 21st century.
The story has been vetted for veracity by 12 credible institutions, including the Bank’s Staff Association, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the US government. The Staff Association is on the record stating: “The case shows several aspects of the Bank’s internal justice system are broken.”
For lack of space, I will present only three examples out of 27 areas of contentions.
I provided the Tribunal with four medical certificates along with a 12-page expert report to substantiate my claim of emotional pain as a result of the Bank’s relentless retaliation after I filed racial discrimination claims. The expert witness, Dr. Noa Davenport, the co-author of the highly acclaimed and frequently cited book “Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace”, wrote: “Dr. Biru was subjected to humiliation, demeaning actions, and emotional abuse.” The report stressed the impacts of “the untenable situation on Dr. Biru’s health and well-being.”
The Tribunal judgment read, “Naturally the Tribunal cannot accept the Applicant’s allegations of intense psychological abuse, unsupported as they are by any evidence save his own assertions.”
The judgment put into question if the Tribunal Secretariat had deliberately hidden the aforementioned evidence from the Tribunal judges.
Another area of contention was my claim that the Bank falsified my employment record to disqualify me from becoming the global manager of a high-profile international program, the International Comparison Program (ICP).
For over six years I was the deputy global manager of ICP. One official personnel record read: “Yonas has multiple roles in the Bank’s global management. As Deputy Global Manager he continued to make significant contribution and is carrying a heavy load… He is praised for his many skills.”
In addition to a complete copy of my official record, I submitted over 20 testimonials and references from senior officials of international organizations and national agencies. Here are some examples.
UN Under-Secretary General and a member of the ICP Executive Board: “Mr. Biru has worked diligently with my senior management and has earned their respect for his resourcefulness and professionalism. He has remarkable skills in building partnerships. As a result, the ICP has laid a strong foundation for a strategic partnership between our agency and the WB…”
Chief Economist, Asian Development Bank, and member of the ICP Executive Board: “Yonas’ professionalism, expertise and diplomacy have been pivotal in influencing Asia’s regional ICP decisions…”
Chief Statistician at World Trade Organization (WTO) and former Director of Statistics at UN-Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean: “My interaction with Mr. Biru dealt with managerial more than technical aspects of the program. Mr. Biru was definitely instrumental in securing funds.”
Chief Statistician, Malaysia: “In all the areas of our involvement with the ICP, Mr. Biru was the manager that we dealt with from the ICP Global Office. I can attest that he is widely respected and highly regarded in Asia both by National ICP Coordinators and by the Managers of the Asian Development Bank…”
Former Head of ICP at OECD: “Mr. Biru’s co-operation with OECD was exemplary and we would be very pleased to collaborate with him on future joint OECD-World Bank projects. Mr. Biru was particularly keen to ensure that the program focused on use of ICP for poverty issues. We were initially dubious that this was appropriate but he convinced us that this was important and the end-result shows that his judgment was sound.”
Despite the hard evidence the Bank insisted I had no managerial role.
A third area of contention was my claim that in addition to global and regional program management and coordination, I was in charge of the ICP research. In a brazen act of crime, the Bank removed my name from published documents and gave the credit to another staff. Here is part of the evidence I presented to the Tribunal.
My official record acknowledged: “Yonas managed and brought to fruition important methodological innovations in critical areas that have created a lasting legacy. The Program just couldn’t be successful without his technical expertise and knowledge of key players.”
Here are a few of the written statements by others.
Mr. Martin Ravallion, former Director of the Bank’s poverty work: “The Poverty PPP work is a very important task for the Bank, and I am impressed with the progress [Yonas] and [his] team have made so far.”
Professor [KW] Roel, Chair in Construction Management, San Diego State University: “A statement along the lines that anyone but Mr. Biru initiated, managed, or guided our research is utterly false. But to suggest it was [Mr. X] is not only false, it is an absurd distortion of reality.”
Mr. [SW] author of a new methodology for capital formation: “Mr. Biru not [Mr. X] directed my assignment. As for program implementation, Mr. Biru directed my assignment. [Mr. X] did not participate in the program implementation phase.”
The Tribunal totally and categorically ignored all the evidence from international agencies and the academia and reiterated the Bank’s false assertions in its public judgment stating: “Applicant had no management responsibility. To be sure, he has been asked to help during spikes in work assignments as a team member… He lacks credibility with the other partners in the international statistical system. They are concerned that the whole project would be put at risk if he was made the Global Manager.”
Was all the evidence hidden from the Tribunal or was the Tribunal willfully suppressing all the evidence? The only way to find this out was by filing an appeal. The Tribunal’s Statute provides for an appeal “in the event of the discovery of a fact which by its nature might have had a decisive influence on the judgment of the Tribunal and which at the time the judgment was delivered was unknown…”
In 2014, I filed an appeal listing 106 material facts (grouped in 27 areas of contentions) that the Tribunal for some inexplicable reason did not seem to have seen, according to its public judgment.
The Tribunal dismissed the appeal stating rather nonchalantly that it had all the information in its possession and my appeal did not reveal anything new.
Alas, the Tribunal’s original judgment that “Applicant’s allegations [were] unsupported by any evidence save his own” was patently false. It represented a breach of one of the cardinal laws of justice “to never seek to mislead by any artifice or false statement of fact or law.”
In 2015, I filed yet another appeal invoking willful, systemic and gross violation of due process by the Tribunal. The Bank filed a motion to dismiss stating that, “Allegations of due process violations by the Tribunal are not cognizable” under the Bank’s justice system. The Tribunal concurred and dismissed the appeal.
Such an inexplicable and shameful injustice is committed to protect the Bank’s racial pecking order. The Bank and the Tribunal understand that allowing a single racial discrimination claim to prevail would open up a floodgate of claims, leading the entire racial hierarchy to unravel. It is with such reckless disdain to racial equality and to the sanctity of justice that the Bank’s endemic racism has been sustained for seven decades.
And all the US government could muster to utter in a memo was: “We believe that further engagement in your case with the Bank would not be productive… We are continuing to explore the possibility of pressing it to look harder at external arbitration…”
The reaction of the UK Board of Director (Susanna Moorehead) was even more caustic: “Neither my office nor the Secretary of State for International Development is able to get involved in individual cases of this nature.”
INALIENABLE RIGHT TO ONE’S PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY
My 2016 Appeal is in place based on two factors: (i) the Bank’s refusal to restore my professional identity, confirm my managerial record to prospective employers, and remove the defamatory personnel information from the public domain, and (ii) denial of equality before the law.
Staff Rule 2.01, paragraph 5.03, obliges the Bank to disclose personnel information “outside the Bank Group if disclosure is necessary to correct false or misleading information.”
What is currently on the Bank’s website falsely claims “Applicant had no management responsibility… lacks credibility with the other partners in the international statistical system… some regions do not want to work with him – they do not think he listens or tries to understand their perspective. They are concerned that the whole project would be put at risk if he was made the global manager.”
As recently as May 2015, the Tribunal has taken an uncompromising stand against defamation. In a case involving an Argentinean staff (Pizarro, Decision 507), the judgment stressed: “As the Tribunal’s jurisprudence shows, the Tribunal takes seriously a finding that the Bank’s actions and inactions caused professional and personal harm to its staff or former staff… the Tribunal finds that the Applicant should be compensated for his losses in employment, reputational harm and emotional distress.”
The Tribunal is not prepared to apply the same rules for Black claimants and the Bank would not have it any other way. This is a microcosmic manifestation of the international racial order that Reverend Jackson has urged the Pope to denounce. One hopes through prayers he would.
* Yonas Biru can be reached at [email protected]