AFRICANGLOBE – The World Bank’s rumor mill has been abuzz with “the Asians are taking over the World Bank” whispers since Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-born American, became the first non-Caucasian president in the World Bank. Of the 12 top management brass, including the President and those who report directly to him, six are of Asian origin.
The concentration of power in the hands of Asians is also evident in the portfolios they control. Sri Mulyani Indrawati of Indonesia was given an expanded portfolio as Chief Operating Officer, becoming second only to the President. Asians sit at the helm of the World Bank Group’s two most important semi-autonomous agencies — the International Finance Corporation and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. Of the two senior vice presidents, one is Indian, who also serves as the Bank’s Chief Economist and another Asian leads the President’s reform agenda. Many see a White rumor mill at work here, fanned by an establishment that sees its institutional grip on power rapidly dissipating. But the real issue isn’t just about complexion, more importantly it is also about direction.
The “in-group” and “out-group” racial space
In 2003, former President James Wolfensohn commissioned a study to determine if there was an “in-group” and “out-group” dynamic operating at the World Bank. The purpose was to determine if “the World Bank is a particular kind of ‘space’ with deeply entrenched attitudes, policies, and processes that tend to generate differentiation among staff — albeit unconsciously — on the basis of where they come from and what they look like.” The study was a follow-up to a 2001 World Bank study titled “Differences in Pay and Grade at the World Bank” that found staff from different regions were paid different wages based on their race and socio-economic status.
The 2003 study titled “Enhancing Inclusion at the World Bank Group, Diagnosis and Solutions” found a caste-like racial social order. Though far higher than Blacks in the pecking order, Asians found themselves situated below Whites. In general, Whites were the “in-group” wielding power. Asians, along with Hispanics, served as technocrats with limited influence in decision-making. Blacks constituted the “out-group” largely confined to sub-professional positions in the various vice presidential units without any handprint in the World Bank’s power structure.
Blacks Under the Current Administration
In December 2012, Justice for Blacks, a group consisting of current and former World Bank staff, wrote an open letter to President Kim stating: “As the first Asian-born president of the World Bank and as one nominated by the first African American President of the United States, we are hopeful that you will restore the human dignity and rights of people of African origin in the World Bank.”
The President, who often harps on his personal encounter with racial discrimination growing up in the State of Iowa has made him sensitive to racial indignities that minorities face, has been found to be tone deaf to discrimination against Blacks. He ignored Justice for Black’s pleas and rebuffed its request for a meeting. Far from strengthening racial inclusion programs, the first department that his administration abolished was the Office of Diversity. As the most discriminated group in the World Bank, Blacks were affected the most by his actions.
Since he took office, the President has taken strong actions condemning institutionalized discrimination against women and gays/lesbians. In an op-ed article in the Huffington Post he called for jailing those who violate the human dignity and rights of women. In another op-ed piece in the Washington Post he advocated for the rights of gays and lesbians. He walked the talk, blocking a $90 million loan to Uganda in reaction to that country passing laws to protect it’s children from homosexual predators.
The only time the President gave racial discrimination full attention was when he wrote a defensive letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times to deny the existence of racial discrimination at the World Bank. This is disturbing because there are six confidential World Bank reports confirming that racial discrimination against Blacks exists and is “systemic.”
In February 2014, a Civil Rights Coalition was formed with the sole purpose of ending institutionalized racism in the World Bank. The Coalition consists of America’s leading civil rights organizations. President Kim rejected the Coalition’s demands and rebuffed its request for a meeting. This was noteworthy not least because the President had met independently with gays/lesbians and gender equality advocates. The double standard is too obvious to miss and too systemic to ignore.
Demonstrating insensitivity in racial discrimination matters, in April 2014, the President stormed out of a meeting with African Ministers of Finance after they questioned why he failed to appoint a single African when he announced 16 new senior directors. This is significant because over half of the International Development Assistance (IDA) funds are spent in Africa. The African Ministers took issue with the President’s explanation that there were not qualified Africans in the application pool. The confrontation led the President to storm out of the meeting, leaving the African dignitaries shocked and frozen in their seats with indignation. Though the President sent a letter of apology the next day, the damage had already been done.
Rather than addressing the root causes of the Bank’s systemic discrimination, President Kim chose to launch a public relations campaign to counter the Civil Rights Coalition’s call for justice. On October 1, 2014, in the midst of heavy security, he gave a speech at Howard University, a predominantly Black institution. Before the President took the podium, his operatives had Howard University security officers kick out Dr. Yonas Biru, founder and co-chair of Justice for Blacks, from the auditorium. His crime was that his internationally known racial discrimination case has become the rallying point of the Civil Rights Coalition. The World Bank also required that all questions during the Q&A period be submitted in writing for screening.
This writer was passing out fliers containing information on the World Bank’s racism including suggested questions to ask Dr. Kim. Howard security told me that I could not pass out written literature on campus – the campus of a university dedicated to diverse information and the first amendment. A student sitting next to me submitted a question regarding a statement made by a World Bank director that Historically Black Colleges and Universities did not adequately prepare students to work at the World Bank. Her question was screened out.
This was disturbing, not the least, because President Kim has given similar speeches at Georgetown and George Washington universities, which are predominantly White institutions, without such a heavy security presence in the auditorium and unsavory requests to screen questions coming from teachers and professors in attendance. Though the topic of his speech at Howard was how to reduce global inequality around the world, he spent a good amount of time painting a positive picture of the working environment in the World Bank. The audience was not allowed to challenge him from the floor.
To date, President Kim has vehemently rejected legitimate demands to establish accountability even in the most egregious cases of racial discrimination. Recently, his administration banned Mr. Eugene Nyambal, a former staff of African origin from entering the World Bank after he filed a lawsuit against the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Mr. Nyambal, who consulted on and off for the World Bank after leaving the IMF, can no longer work for the World Bank. As noted above, the current administration has gone as far as violating the basic civil rights of Dr. Biru outside of the World Bank. Little known is the World Bank’s immunity from U.S. anti-racial discrimination laws and institutions.
The systemic abuse has been taken to an unprecedented level. It is past time to establish accountability. The Buck stops with Dr. Kim, as the President and Chair of the Board of Directors.