An Open Letter to the Pope on Institutional Racism at the World Bank and G-20

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. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast.”

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).

The G-20 bills itself as “the premier forum for global economic and financial cooperation” and proclaims that its overarching objective is to “lift growth across the developed and developing world to benefit people in all countries.” Each item in the G-20 agenda has a far- reaching impact on all regions, most importantly on the poor in Africa.

The systemic inequality in representation of different regions in the G-20 is shocking. The rich in Europe and North America account for 14 percent of the world population and occupy 9 of the 20 seats at the coveted G-20 table. Asia has six seats including Australia. Latin America has three and the Middle East has one. Africa, which represents 16 percent of the world population occupies one seat – South Africa. The average per capita income for Sub Saharan Africa is $3,300, a very different economic reality than what South Africa represents with $12,500 per capita income.

The poor in Africa are segregated out of the G-20, whose purported vision statement is to “build an inclusive and sustainable global economy for all.” The virtual exclusion of Africa from the G-20 has far-reaching consequences in the day-to-day economic management of African countries because the G-20 controls 75 percent of the voting power in the World Bank. The 47 Sub Saharan African countries that account for 25 percent of the Bank’s member countries are allotted 5.4 percent voting power.

No voice in the World Bank boardroom means no role in its administration. The World Bank website shows 1732 Bank-financed projects, of which Africa accounts for the largest regional percentages both in terms of the number of countries and projects. Yet, people of African origin are excluded from positions of influence in the institution.

Out of the 126 “lead economists” that are scattered throughout the Bank as top technical experts of general economic issues, only two are black (1.6 percent). Similarly, according to the Bank’s 2015 diversity index, blacks account for 1.4 percent of the professional cohort in the Development Economics vise presidential unit. This is where the Bank’s strategic decisions are formulated. As Justice for Blacks noted, “Africa is orphaned and put under guardianship in the World Bank.”

Six World Bank reports attribute the exclusion of Africans from influential technical and managerial positions to “systemic racial discrimination.” As Dr. E. Faye Williams, Chair of the National Congress for Black Women, noted, “A simple Google search will confirm the racial injustice, producing several pages of articles with shocking titles that seem to describe another era or a faraway place.”

The problem resides in the sovereign immunity that the Bank enjoys. The institution exists outside of the jurisdiction of national courts. Victims of discrimination are confined to an internal Administrative Tribunal – an entity that neither recognizes nor honors the due process rights of blacks.

In a recent case that triggered a worldwide uproar, the World Bank required a widely praised African to manage a high-profile international program from behind the scenes, while fronting a white consultant to the outside world as the program’s manager. The African was told “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power.”

Since the Bank’s personnel policy did not allow consultants to perform managerial duties, the white consultant was used as a front to keep the African out of the limelight. Noting the dehumanizing practice, the Bank’s Peer Review Panel reported to senior management that the Bank’s actions “cannot be explained by business reasons” and strongly recommended that “the Bank immediately enter into binding mediation.” The Bank ignored the recommendations. The Bank’s former Senior Advisor for Racial Equality, the Chief Ethics Officer and the Ombudsman pleaded with several senior World Bank officials to address the dehumanizing treatment, but to no avail.

The degrading treatment was intolerable, causing the African psychological stress and physical illness. As part of his complaint the African filed five medical certificates, including a report by a certified psychiatrist and hospital records. Sadly, he learned that the Tribunal does not consider medical certificates filed by a black complainant of racial discrimination. In contrast, the Tribunal routinely considers medical certificates filed by white claimants. 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.

Having systematically suppressed over 100 material facts supporting the claimant’s allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation, the Tribunal ruled that the Bank’s actions were justified by business reasons. Adding insult to injury, the Bank terminated the African. In a separate ruling the Tribunal found his termination “unlawful and an abuse of discretion,” but ruled that he should not be reinstated because “he has criticized his managers” and “has made no secret of his contempt” for the status quo.

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 on his racial discrimination case, but still voted with the other two judges because he “did not find it fit then to dissent.” He wrote: “I was not yet ready for such a momentous step” of voting his conscience against the status quo.

Clearly, the judge failed to perform with fidelity his judicial duties that he was bound by oath. This is a violation of due process. Nonetheless, the Bank’s official position, as articulated by the its Chief Counsel, is that “Allegations of due process violations by the Tribunal are not cognizable under the statue of the Tribunal.” Moreover, the Chief Counsel requested the Tribunal to sanction the African for criticizing the Tribunal’s unjust judgment.

It is this culture of institutionalized injustice that triggered the formation of the DC Civil Rights Coalition. The case also resulted in an unprecedented intervention of the US Treasury Department, the US Board of Director to the World Bank, the Chair of the US Senate Appropriations Committee, the US Congressional Black Caucus, African Diaspora organizations, and leaders of over 500 faith- based organizations. None met with success.

How rampant is the problem? The Bank’s former Senior Advisor for Racial Equality is on the record that his office alone received and reviewed over 450 cases of racial discrimination in just five years. Another World Bank report puts the figure much higher. A simple extrapolation of the 450 figure over 20 years yields 1800 cases of discrimination (some file as many as 7 cases). Yet, not a single claimant has prevailed.

Since 1997, The Bank’s African Board of Governors have been pressing senor management to change this dehumanizing culture. Unfortunately, their meager collective 5.4 percent voting power is not enough to enforce change. The leaders of the G-20 countries who are in control of the lion’s

share of the voting power are indifferent, if not complicit. When those who wield power lack the moral imperative to act, religious leaders carry the burden of espousing the causes of those who are powerless to fend for themselves.

Your Holiness,

Institutional racism represents a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More importantly, it is a sin against the Will of God. I write on behalf of those whose human dignity has been breached and whose cries for justice have been ignored to urge you to appeal to the Bank’s powerful Board of Governors to establish a high-level external commission to investigate the Tribunal for human rights violations.

I humbly ask of Your Holiness, also, to speak against the exclusion of over one billion Africans from the G-20. Representation on a global body such as the G-20 should not be determined solely based on economic power. Adding Nigeria, the largest economy and most populous country in Africa, along with another African country will provide the G-20 moral legitimacy and conscience as a forum for global economic governance.

I await for your blessed actions in high hopes and unshakable faith.

Jesse Jackson is the founder Rainbow/Operation PUSH.



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Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

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