Reverend Jessie Jackson

 Rev. Jesse Jackson urges the Bank to address the issue of rampant racism against Black people.

May 15, 2014 African and Caribbean Board of Governors C/o Executive Directors The World Bank Washington, DC 20433 Dear Board of Governors: Re: “Africa Orphaned and Under Guardianship at the World Bank” I write to you in your capacity as esteemed members of the Board of Governors of the World Bank Group to bring your attention to and ask your support for the Washington DC Civil Rights Coalition (“the Coalition”) that has been established to end institutionalized racial discrimination at the World Bank. The Coalition represents the DC Chapters of America’s leading civil rights organizations, including the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition of which I am the Founder and President. Racial discrimination constitutes a serious human rights violation. Yet, international human rights agencies that are quick to investigate and condemn allegations of human rights infractions in Africa are totally silent when it comes to systemic and prolonged human rights abuses in powerful international institutions. The Coalition believes that reaching out to the media and mobilizing support from the Board of Governors is crucial in raising awareness and ending the systemic and endemic institutional racism at the World Bank– hence this letter. In an article entitled “Africa orphaned and Under Guardianship at the World Bank,” Justice for Blacks provided a summary of an excellent article by Phyllis Muhammad that threw light on “the twin evils that have bedeviled the World Bank’s relationship with Africa as a continent and Africans as human beings.” The twin evils are presented as “structural and cultural.” Sub Saharan Africa, home for 30 percent of the world’s poor is allotted only 5.55 percent voting rights on the Bank’s Board. This is the structural problem. The cultural problem deals with institutional racism in the Bank Group that has denied Africans voice in the day-to-day management and administration of the Bank. The article showed that in 2011 Blacks accounted for 5.4 percent of the professional cohort in the seven most important Network and Operational vice presidential units (VPUs). As Justice for Blacks rightly noted, “Apart from infringing on the civil and human rights of Black staff, racism in the World Bank denies continental Africa and the Caribbean region the contributions of their learned sons and daughters in the Bank’s policy decisions that determine the destiny of more than 900 million Black people in the two regions.” One of the systematic practices of racism acknowledged in six World Bank and several Staff Association Memos is the “ghettoization” of Blacks, namely the segregation of Blacks in the Africa region and their virtual exclusion from key VPUs of the World Bank. In 1998, former President James Wolfensohn tried to end the practice of “ghettoization”. He established a target to have 10 percent (later modified to 12.5 percent) Black representation in each of the Bank’s 30 or so VPUs by 2008. Not a single one of the 12 regional, network and operational VPUs outside of the Africa region came close to meeting the target. These are the key VPUs directly involved in the Bank’s policy making and implementation. In 2011 (three years after the 2008 deadline had passed), the racial diversity index in the 12 VPUs was 5.2 percent, a far cry from the 12.5 percent target. The Development Economics and Poverty Reduction and Economic Management VPUs had 2.4 and 3.8 percent Black professionals, respectively. More importantly, once President Wolfensohn left the Bank the toxic racist environment reared its ugly head, triggering a reverse exodus of Blacks to the Africa regional VPU building where they are segregated. This period was capped by the recurring hateful graffiti (“Niggers go home” ) that slurred Black staff in the corridors of the Bank’s Main Complex in 2009, signaling to Blacks they were being repulsed. Reversing President Wolfensohn’s modest achievement s Black representation in some VPUs fell by as much as 75 percent between 2009 and 2011 (Data Source: World Bank, 2011). Having thoroughly canvassed the Bank’s racial landscape and having documented shocking statistics, the Coalition methodically “zoomed in on individual cases to diagnose the ills of the system from up close.” It identified Dr. Yonas Biru’s 2010 and 2014 Tribunal cases as object lessons illuminating the Bank’s systemic and unorthodox practices that have kept Blacks out of management positions outside of Africa. Report expose the Bank’s HR complex as going as far as to falsify the HR records of qualified Black candidates to disqualify them from management positions. Most importantly, the complicity of the Tribunal has been revealed. That such a level of manifest injustice can be tolerated in the 21st century is as painful to read as it is to fathom. What is perhaps most telling of the institutional problem in this case is how Black and non-Black World Bank officials reacted to the injustice. Only one non-Black official (the Chief Ethics Officer) – the only female – out of 17 senior officials that Dr. Biru contacted intervened and sought to find a fair and just resolution. In contrast, every Black official who had reviewed the case intervened including a former Managing Director, the US Executive Director to the World Bank, the Ombudsman, and President Wolfensohn’s former Senior Advisor on Racial Equality (SARE). In addition, as highlighted in the attached, “the only Black judge on the Tribunal Panel wrote that he was not aware of some material facts during the Tribunal proceedings, raising a suspicion that evidence may have been withheld from him. The Judge wrote to Dr. Biru stating: ‘I held up the judgment pleading your case but was outnumbered…. I have been in this business a long time and know what litigating against an employer does to the employee who sees his rights trampled without remedy.’” It must be recalled that on April 13, 1999, then President James Wolfensohn wrote to the US government, acknowledging that the Tribunal was inadequate to adjudicate racial discrimination complaints and promising “We are now in the process of implementing the reforms and I can assure of my personal commitment to administering a conflict resolution system in the World Bank Group that ranks among the most effective and progressive of its kind.” Fifteen years later the promise remains broken. You may also recall that in 2009 the Bank established the so-called “US Minorities Working Group” to address the virtual absence of Black American professionals and managers in the World Bank. Nearly five years have passed without any progress. While five years may appear a short period, the Bank has demonstrated that it is capable of doing extraordinary things when it is committed to its goals. This is duly noted in the July 16, 2012 issue of the Forbes magazine: “When arriving at the World Bank [former president] Robert Zoellick was flabbergasted at the glass ceiling for women– despite 20 years of studies and internal promises to change it. Within five years he could boast that half of his top managers were female.” Furthermore, President Kim’s op-ed article on the February 27, 2014 issue of the Washington Post condemning discrimination against gays and lesbians and the Bank’s decision to delay the approval of a $90 million health care loan to Uganda in response to the country’s enactment of anti-gay legislation shows the Bank acts with a sense of urgency when it chooses to. In contrast, despite 35 years of promises by every World Bank President since Robert McNamara, Blacks still face blatant discrimination without access to justice. All that Blacks get is a string of promise for a better future that never materializes. The expectation was high when President Kim was nominated by President Obama and later confirmed as the first minority President of the World Bank. In two years, the unbounded expectations for equality and justice have subsided and despair has set in. The President’s failure to include a single Black in his team of 16 senior directors took everyone including his strong supporters by surprise. Those who hoped for and expected fundamental reforms saw the continuation of the systemic racism that has bedeviled the Bank for over half a century. Most importantly, the lack of resolve to address even the most egregious cases of administrative abuse by the HR complex shows that the current administration, as those before it, is more interested in maintaining the public relations image of the Bank rather than protecting the human and civil rights of its Black staff (see Annexes 1 and 4 of the attached summary). Can the Board entrust the noble missions of championing and promoting equitable development and poverty reduction policies in Africa and the Caribbean regions to an institution that discriminates against Blacks in its own ranks? The answer is obvious and it is in this regard that I urge you to support the legitimate demands for fundamental reform put forth by the Civil Rights Coalition to: • Appoint expeditiously an external eminent persons group to acknowledge and redress the systemic racial discrimination and the denial of access to justice that constitute civil and human rights violations. • Provide victims of discrimination access to external arbitration as an alternative to the existing adjudicative body. It should be noted: (i) several World Bank reports have recommended providing access to external arbitration; (ii) the Staff Association documented in 2005 that the overwhelming majority of Blacks would rather suffer racial indignation in silence than file complaints with the Tribunal; and (iii) the US has passed a law that uses its financial support as leverage to induce the World Bank to incorporate external arbitration in its justice system as an international best practice. • Resolve current racial discrimination and related-retaliation cases outside of the Tribunal. • Address the exclusion of Blacks at the senior management level, focusing not only on recruiting Blacks but also on providing them with a healthy and wholesome working environment free of institutional racism in order to retain them. Since 1980, the World Bank has failed to honor its string of promises to address the endemic problem of institutional racism. In contrast, it has made significant strides in establishing a fair and equitable working environment for women as well as for gays and lesbians. The Coalition’s demands represent critical steps of first importance to bring about a transformative change. We can no longer sit silent, remain patient, or accept superficial reforms. The Bank action’s to date suggest that it would rather lose 15 percent of the US’ financial support tied to its adopting external arbitration as part of its justice system than give victims of racial discrimination access to justice. The Board of Governors, as an institution, has a solemn duty and a moral imperative to intervene with “the fierce urgency of now.” I hope you will give this request the utmost priority and attention it deserves. If you have any question or wish to follow up I can be reached through my director of policy, Frank Watkins, who is working with other civil rights coalition members to get a lasting resolution to this grave matter. Frank may be reached via email Sincerely, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

2014-06-05, Issue 681

Pambazuka News


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