The World Bank, which is headquartered in Washington with over 10,000 staff and consultants, is a part of the UN system. As such, it enjoys immunity from US courts. Victims of discrimination can only challenge it before an internal Tribunal that serves the institution as a fig leaf of justice.
In 1997, a former director of the World Bank’s Loan Department explained why he was not recruiting black professionals saying: “Blacks make poor accountants and the department could not hire too many blacks as the department would look like a ghetto.” He suggested blacks should be kept in “the ghetto of the Bank,” in reference to the Bank’s Africa region. In 2005, the Staff Association sent a letter to the Bank’s HR urging its managers “to address seriously the issue of ‘ghettoization.’”
In 2009, a retired senior vice president explained why the World Bank required blacks to go through a special screening process before they could graduate out of the Africa region as follows: "The first thing was to promote them in Africa region. The second hurdle is that having seen them do well in Africa to convince other regions to accept them and to stop putting the screens..."
According to a report by the Government Accountability Project (GAP), “In 2008, only four black Americans held professional positions out of more than 1000 US nationals. This figure represents a significant proportional decline even from the abysmal levels reported [in the Washington Post] thirty years ago.”
An op-ed article Foreign Policy in Focus, by Bea Edwards highlighted "the pattern of racial discrimination at the World Bank and the lack of vindication for complainants at the Tribunal translate into an environment of lawlessness and impunity where breathtakingly racist incidents can still occur." In the last couple of years alone, over a dozen articles appeared in several newspapers and established blogs around the world with titles such as "Walking Apartheid Avenue," "World Bank Puts Black Employees at Back of Bus," "Apartheid a la Bank Mondial," and "Discriminación Racial en el Banco Mundial."
In March 2012, a group of former and current World Bank staff petitioned the World Bank Board of Directors (who serve as representatives of the World Bank’s Board of Governors) to intervene. Having read several documents submitted by the group, a member of the Board of Directors wrote: “Thank you for bringing this very disturbing and saddening matter to our attention. … [However] I am not in a position to provide you with a reasonable feedback… With kind regard and the Almighty's guidance always”
Would the World Bank have tolerated such naked discrimination for so long had the victims been any other group? The answer is made obvious by its sustained actions to end gender discrimination. Racial discrimination continues unabated because the victims are black. Another pertinent question is: "Can the Board of Governors entrust the future of Africa to an institution that discriminates against Africans?"
Apart from infringing the human rights of blacks staff, racism denies Africa the contributions of her learned sons and daughters in the Bank’s policy decisions that determine its destiny. For example, in 2010 Africa accounted for 50 percent of the Bank’s International Development Assistance (IDA) disbursements for poverty alleviation. However, in the same year, people of African origin represented a dismal 2.5 percent of the professional staff in the Development Economics (DEC) vice presidency, where the Bank’s poverty alleviation policies are shaped.
As Dr. Martin Luther King rightly said, "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." Please make your voice heard by joining us in calling the World Bank’s Board of Governors, the US government and the Human Rights Watch to take immediate actions.
Note to the Media: For further information contact Ms. Fatuma Mokaba at firstname.lastname@example.org.