Pressure Mounts On World Bank's Kim To Deal With Alleged Racism Against African Staff Professionals

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World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim

[Op-Ed: Commentary]

There is an ongoing case underway in the World Bank's Administrative Tribunal involving an African litigant who wanted to introduce a DNA test result to establish that Blacks are human and should be treated as such by the World Bank and its Administrative Tribunal.

The request may sound outlandish or even blasphemous to some, but for the fact that it is the only legal option the aggrieved African is left with after the World Bank Tribunal ruled in 2010 and 2014 that he cannot use medical certificates to establish emotional and psychological damages, even though White claimants can.

As Reverend Jackson noted in his recent open letter to Pope Francis, "The issue is not the validity or lack thereof of the medical reports under consideration. Rather, the issue is an inexplicable judicial practice of treating Black and non-black complainants differently."

A 1998 World Bank report revealed “a cultural prejudice among some managers, who rated Sub-Saharan Africans inferior,” at The World Bank.

In 2010 and 2014, the Tribunal, as an institution, exposed a judicial prejudice that treats Sub-Saharan Africans as physiologically and psychologically different, if not inferior. As Reverend Jackson's open letter revealed,  "The only Black judge on the Tribunal's panel sent the aggrieved staff a written apology, acknowledging that he did not agree with the Tribunal's judgment but still voted with the other two judges because he 'did not find it fit then to dissent.' He 'was not yet ready for such a momentous step' of voting his conscience against the status quo."

The judge is not a newly minted jurist to be "not yet ready." According to the World Bank's website, he is a professor of law at Columbia University with 50 years law practice.  What he was not yet ready for was to go against the Bank's de facto policy and long-held practice of treating Blacks as inferior -- as explicitly acknowledged in several World Bank studies in 1992, 1998, and 2003.

On January 8, 2015, the Aggrieved African appealed to World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, to weigh in. He wrote to the Korean-American:  "I am contacting you not only as the President of the World Bank, but also as a medical professional who is under Hippocratic oath [to do no harm by action or inaction]. I have asked the Tribunal to give me extra time to file DNA test results along with a Doctor's paper to help the judges understand that Blacks are human and suffer the same emotional and psychological damages that people of other races suffer when subjected to sustained psychological abuse. The DNA test results take at least six weeks. In the event that the Tribunal rejected my request for extra time, I would like to ask you to write an affidavit as a medical professional confirming that Blacks [suffer] the same emotional and psychological damages like people of other races."

The president ignored the appeal. This was followed by the Tribunal's rejection of his request for extra time to file DNA test results.

This is not an isolated incident, but a reflection of an endemic institutional culture of racism. As this writer noted before, a simple Google search will confirm the breathtaking racial injustice, producing several citations of articles with shocking titles that seem to describe another era or a faraway place. Frank Watkins, public policy director at Rainbow/PUSH Coalition had it right when he wrote: "To hear firsthand the harrowing discrimination that Black employees endure in the World Bank is to be transported back in time to the 1950s."

The outrage is not limited to liberal civil rights advocates. Gregory Simpkins, a conservative and currently Staff Director for the GOP-controlled U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa and Human Rights, blogged about the same case in a piece titled "Walking Apartheid Avenue", noting that the World Bank is using its immunity from lawsuits as a carte blanche for impunity. Mr. Simpkins wrote: "We may not be able to sue them in court for such blatant discrimination, but we are not without recourse. No agency that depends on [US] funding should take that funding for granted."

The Bank's former Senior Advisor for Racial Equality is on the record acknowledging that the case represents the worst racial discrimination case that he has ever seen. The US Treasury, the US Board of Director to the World Bank, the US Congressional Black Caucus, eight of America's leading civil rights organizations, leaders of over 500 faith-based organizations, and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) intervened at different times to seek justice for the African, but President Kim chose to retreat behind the veil of the Bank's immunity protection.

In a letter addressed to the former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the former Chair of the U.S. Senate Appropriation Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski, referred to the noted-case as a "very serious issue" and demanded that the Department of Justice (DOJ) "take every appropriate action to address this problem as soon as possible." Mr. Holder responded regrettably that the DOJ has no jurisdiction over the World Bank.

As the criticism from the outside world mounted, President Kim lined up a few Africans including his Chief of Staff to defend the Bank. The Chief of Staff wrote to the DC Civil Rights Coalition: "We at the WBG [World Bank Group] take our commitment to diversity and inclusion very seriously. There is no place in our organization for discrimination of any kind. The picture being presented by some former staffers is not the vibrantly diverse WBG where I proudly work."

Another African, who wears two hats as an HR manager and as the custodian of the African Society Affinity Group in the World Bank, rejected the growing external uproar. He wrote claiming that the criticisms leveled against the Bank "do not reflect the work conditions or the state of employee relations at the World Bank Group today.  [The African Society in the Bank] therefore does not see any need for outside intervention."

In the meantime, the Bank's 2014 diversity and inclusion report identified several "blatant and virulent" cases of racism between 2003 and 2013, though it said there were fewer such cases after 2009. The report acknowledges the presence of "blatant ad virulent" cases of racism, but cannot identify a single case where a perpetrator has been held accountable. The report gave the Bank 2.5 on the scale of 6. This is equivalent to 42 percent on a scale of 100, or a solid "F".

World Bank President Kim's divide-and-rule policy is not limited to the Bank's Black staff.

Fabrice Houdart, then president of the World Bank LGBTI community wrote on his Facebook page: "[The President's] close circle called me to ask me to be more supportive of President Kim, given everything that he had done for the LGBTI community”.

Not only did he refuseto provide false alibis, but he continued to be a vocal and courageous critic of the President's policies and practices. 

He was retaliated against with trumped-up allegations of leaking confidential information.

Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq

Editor's Note: If you know of more well-documented cases of discrimination at The World Bank please contact mallimadi@gmail.com

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