Fahamu (Oxford)

Africa Orphaned, Under Guardianship At World Bank


Segregation exists in the employment practices and positioning of Africans within the World Bank as a result of racist institutional practice. Africans are muted in the Bank's boardrooms, where strategic policies that have significant bearings on Africa are set and this needs to radically change

In an excellent expose published in this forum Phyllis Muhammad wrote about 'the twin evils that have bedeviled the World Bank's relationship with Africa as a continent and Africans as human beings.' Her article opened a space for a new perspective and discourse, identifying the twin evils as structural and cultural. The structural 'concerns a 'democracy deficit' in the Bank's governance architecture that has denied Africa voice in the institution's Boardroom.' The cultural 'involves institutional discrimination in the day-to-day management of the Bank.' See 'Unmasking Racist World Bank,' (12/18/2012).

The purpose of this article is to show that Africans are virtually absent at any level to influence global policies that affect their continent's destiny. Since the late 1990s, Africa has taken center stage of the Bank's business, accounting for 50 percent of the International Development Association funds. However, as Ms. Muhammad noted 'Sub Saharan Africa, home for 30 percent of the world's poor, was allotted 5.55 percent of the World Bank's voting rights.' Africans are muted in the Bank's Boardrooms, where strategic policies that have significant bearings on Africa are set.

A corollary question is: 'who speaks for Africa at the management, and administrative level in the day-to-day decision making process of the World Bank?' According to the World Bank, its primary focus in terms of providing voice to its client countries is 'its diversity in composition associated with its global nature.' This means in a very broad sense Africans would have a reasonably meaningful role in the Bank's management in general, and in the Bank's decision making process for Africa in particular. But alas that is not the case. Blacks in the World Bank's professional cohort account for a mere 5.4 percent in the seven most important vice presidential units (VPUs) where strategic development policies and poverty alleviation programs are formulated (See Table 1).

It should be noted that the 5.4 percent figure represents mostly entry level professional grades and also includes white South Africans and Africans of Asian origin. If only blacks were to be counted the 5.4 percent will be far below 5 percent. It should also be noted that representation of Blacks at management level in the seven VPUs is closer to zero percent.

What is also notable is that the situation has gotten worse between 2009 and 2011, showing an overall 20 percent reduction in representation of Blacks in professional positions in the seven VPUs from an already low level of 6.3 percent in 2009. This is a reflection of the total disregard for racial equality during Robert Zoellick's presidency (2007-2012). Making matters worse the HR vice president, Hasan Tuluy, showed no interest in discharging his responsibility. Representation of Blacks declined in his own vice presidency (HRSVP) from 10.1 to 9.2 percent between 2009 and 2011, dropping further to 8.7 percent in 2012 (See World Bank HR Analytics FY2012).


In general, Blacks are segregated in the Africa VPU. The term widely used inside the Bank is 'ghettoization' of Blacks because the Africa regional VPU was nicknamed 'the ghetto of the Bank' in a public meeting by one of the Bank's senior officials in 1996. A 2003 World Bank Report acknowledged 'Blacks are told they can only work in the Africa region because they can be more competitive there and some nationals do not want to work with Blacks.' A 2004 study by the Strategic Staffing wing of the Bank's HRSVP shows that only Africans are segregated in their regional VPU, while other races are widely represented in all Bank VPUs.

In 2005, the Staff Association appealed to the Personnel Committee of the Bank's Board to 'address seriously the issue of 'ghettoization' to ensure that diversity cuts across the institution.' Their repeated appeals fell in deaf ears. In 2011, Blacks accounted for 2.1 percent of the professional cohort in the East Asia and Pacific regional VPU. The corresponding figure for the Africa regional VPU is 45.2 percent (see Table 2).

The data also shows blacks are relatively more represented in the Middle East and North Africa (6.7 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (6.0 percent), and South Asia (5.1 percent) compared to 2.1 percent in East Asia and the Pacific and 4.6 percent in Eastern Europe and central Asia. The 6.7 percent, 6.0 percent and 5.1 percent figures reflect relatively high representation of blacks in regions where the population consists of black and/or brown people. For example, the majority of Black staff in the Latin America and Caribbean regional VPU are in the Caribbean islands.


How well represented are Blacks in the management of the African regional VPU? The data is available within the Bank, but not made readily accessible. Data compiled by Justice for Blacks from the Bank's 2008 telephone directory shows the following.

As noted above Black professionals are segregated in the African regional VPU representing 52.2 percent of the professional body, but account only for 20 percent of the management team (see Table 3). Asians account for 24 percent and Europeans, and North Americans represent 52 percent of the senior management cohort in the Africa VPU. Blacks in general have less say in the Bank's management of Africa than Asians, Europeans and North Americans. Alas, Africa is orphaned and under guardianship.

In comparison, Asians account for 45 percent of East Asia's and 37 percent of South Asian Management teams. Blacks account for 3 percent of the professional staff in each of the East Asia and Europe and Central Asia regional VPU. The corresponding figures for South Asian and Latin American and Caribbean regional VPUs are 7 percent. The pattern is strikingly similar to what is observed at the lower professional levels, showing that outside of Africa, Blacks are more represented in regions where the large majority of the people are Black or Brown. Another interesting point is that Europeans and North Americans account for 60 percent of the management cohort of the Bank, but represent 74 percent of the management team in Europe and Central Asia (the Bank's white region). It is a modern day caste system. It reflects what Adrienne Smith called 'good-enough' racial equality in her piece published in this forum. See 'Good-enough Racial Equality at the World Bank' (12/19/2012)


Economic development is not all about complex general equilibrium and macroeconomic models. Nor is it all about fancy econometrics. Economic actions are governed not only by quantifiable macro economic and financial variables, but also by unquantifiable social organization of networks as well as by informal norms and culture that general equilibrium models do not capture. Intimate knowledge of Africa's norms and culture is important in shaping its development trajectory. Nonetheless, not a single black African has been appointed regional chief Economist for Africa. This, in and of itself, is conspicuous in light of the fact that most of the Chief Economists for Asia have been Asians, including the current one. What can explain the virtual absence of Black managers in the African regional VPU? Is there not an adequate pool of qualified Blacks to fill management positions in Africa?

Overall, Blacks account for 15 percent of the Bank's work force, but a large majority, including those with MBA and PhD degrees, are concentrated in sub-professional levels or short term consultancy assignments. The Bank's own 1998 report acknowledges that 'black staff members are recruited disproportionately in the secretarial grades, ignoring the educational and professional success they have achieved.' The report goes on to note that 'many of them are qualified for the professional ranks of the Bank.' A 2005 Staff Association report highlighted:

• It is not unusual to see many black graduates of US Ivy league schools in critical areas in demand in the Bank trapped in the short term consultant stream after many years in the Bank (15 years for some).

• It is also not unusual to see Bank staff of African descent, with more than 30 years of Bank experience, with excellent performance evaluations, graduates of US Ivy League schools, with PhDs, in the sunsets of their careers [never having broken into the management ranks.]

Let us provide three examples out of several dozens of cases.


Mr. EN holds two graduate degrees from leading universities and Grandes Ecoles in France, including an MBA and Masters in Economics and two Post Graduate degrees in Banking and Finance, and Information Systems and Business Reengineering. Grand Ecoles in the French system are equivalent to Ivy Leagues in the US. Mr. EN was one of 17 graduate students accepted into one of the Post Graduate programs out of 700 competing candidates.

Mr. EN authored two widely referenced books on African economic development. He also won two Awards of Excellence from the World Bank and IFC, the private sector wing of the Bank. These are awards given to exceptional performers. Mr. EN is a globally recognized expert who has delivered keynote speeches in a number of high level forums in Africa, Europe and the US.

Anyone with such an extraordinary achievement and international recognition should have move up the World Bank's management ladder in a short time. Indeed, two of Mr. EN's post graduate classmates are vice presidents in the World Bank. Others are in leadership positions at the IMF and a number of large private corporations. Unfortunately, in the eyes of some World Bank managers Mr. EN's achievements could not overshadow two major handicaps: His color and place of origin.

During his tenure with the World Bank (1995-2000), Mr. EN was a Team Leader for Private Sector Development (PSD) for a number of African countries. In spite of being a team leader, he had the lowest salary in the team. Some of his team members were paid more than 70 percent than he was. Mr. EN complained about this unjust salary differential. The HR reviewed his salary and sent him a note acknowledging that his salary was low and advising him to talk to his manager. He did as advised and this was the beginning of the end of Mr. EN's position in PSD. The manager claimed that he would need to first 'open Mr. EN's position for competition' before he could adjust his salary. On this basis, in 2000, Mr. EN applied for the very position he had been holding and performing with excellence since 1995. Shortly thereafter, he was informed that the position had been cancelled for 'budgetary reasons' and his service was no longer needed in PSD.

Mr. EN applied for the position of manager for Strategy in the IFC. He went through a series of interviews which went very well. IFC promised to send him a letter of employment. While he was waiting for the letter, he was informed that the manager's position had been cancelled and he would be hired as Senior Strategy Officer. Mr. EN was given a position one pay scale below what he was cleared for. His performance with IFC was excellent as documented in his annual performance evaluation and his Award for Excellence. Unfortunately, a new director came and made it clear from the day he arrived in the department that he was not interested in having Mr. EN in his department. The director claimed he needed to reorganize the department and let Mr. EN go even though he was the only member of the team with an Award for Excellence.

CASE 2: BK v. World Bank (2011)

Having earned a Masters Degree, graduating at the top of his class, and being an award winning Ph.D. in Economics from one of the leading universities in France, Dr. BK joined the Bank through the very selective Young Professionals (YP) program in 1986. The YP program annually selects about 30 high caliber youngsters out of a pool of 10,000 accomplished applicants from around the world. Most YPs go through the ranks fairly quickly to high-level management positions. Two of Dr. BK's YP cohorts made it to Vice president. Many are Directors and the rest are at least Sector Managers. Dr. BK was the only one who did not break into the management grade, despite an excellent performance record and recognition at different levels including by a former President of the Bank, James Wolfensohn, for exemplary work. Every time he was up for promotion or for a higher grade assignment the Bank freely violated its rules and kept him trapped bellow the glass ceiling.

Between 2005 and 2010 Dr. BK applied for 14 positions, but without success. During all those unsuccessful attempts, he made the shortlist only a few times. This is despite the Bank's hyped public relations campaign to assist qualified Africans to get promoted to management ranks following the Bank's highly publicized but never enforced 'zero tolerance for discrimination.'

Far from assisting Dr. BK, the Bank blocked his promotion repeatedly using discriminatory actions. For example, for one of the management positions his prospect for promotion was high as the most qualified applicant in the shortlist. However, the Bank gave the position to a non-black candidate, who was not even on the short list. It should be noted that the chosen candidate's application was turned down by the short-listing Committee because the candidate did not meet the advertised minimum requirement for the position.

Dr. BK had seven different racial discrimination cases. In the first two cases the Bank mediated the cases and compensated him financially without admitting fault. In the next three cases the Bank's Tribunal reviewed his charges of discrimination and summarily dismissed them, but found that the Bank violated its HR procedures in the recruitment process in which Dr. BK was denied higher level positions, and the Tribunal awarded him financial compensation instead. In the last two cases the Tribunal ruled he could not be compensated because he had been compensated in previous similar cases, even though cases six and seven involved separate causes of action that he presented on the merits without relying on any of his previous cases.


Dr. Bo has an exemplary professional career at the Bank. For example, he task managed the influential 'Can Africa Claim the 21st Century' report (2000); and co-managed the 'Evaluation of the Banks Comprehensive Development Framework: CDF' report (2001). The CDF was a major milestone in development partnership, aimed at enhancing recipient countries' ownership of their development discourse by moving away from the dysfunctional and ill-fated ex-ante conditionality to ex-post and results-oriented aid relations. The CDF provided the conceptual framework for the Bank's poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) aid modality. Moreover, as the Bank's leading expert on the economics of civil wars and conflicts Dr. BO directed four major research projects on the subject during 1999-2008 that produced more than 30 research papers, three books, two special editions of journals, and several policy and operational products.

Having gone through a very extensive competitive process, Dr. Bo was short-listed, interviewed by senior managers and selected to fill the Chief Economist position for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region of the Bank. His appointment was stopped by former President Robert Zoellick, who insisted that the Bank 'can do even better' and instructed his senior management team to reopen the competition process and expand the list to include women and candidates with 'a better name recognition in the MENA region.' The President's instruction 'to do even better' without clearly defining what that means is a telling example.

After the Bank failed to find a woman candidate who met one of the key selection criteria for the job, 'deep knowledge about the MENA region,' the Bank dropped the requirement altogether. Obviously, a candidate without knowledge of the region cannot have name recognition in the region as an expert. Therefore, it, too, was dropped from the criteria and Dr. Bo's selection was ruled out and the position was given to another candidate. This is blatant discrimination considering the current chief economists for Latin America, East Asia and South Asia regions are from their respective regions with name recognition.

According to the Bank's definition, 'discrimination takes place where staff who are in basically similar situations are treated differently.' Why was Dr. Bo's appointment treated differently? Why did the search for a candidate 'with a better name recognition,' presumably better than Dr. Bo, end up selecting a candidate without name recognition? Did the Bank 'do even better' by appointing a candidate who did not meet the two abovementioned selection criteria? Did the Bank 'do even better' by not appointing Dr. Bo, who met all the selection criteria?

Dr. Bo's appointment as Chief Economist would also have served an important diversity objective, of which the Bank's record is nothing short of appalling. If appointed, Dr. Bo would have been the first Chief Economist of African descent since the inception of the World Bank over 65 years ago.

Each of the above three individuals filed discrimination complaints, but the Tribunal summarily rejected their discrimination claims with abject disregard for the merits of their cases. A further review of the Tribunal's systemic violation of the due process rights of Blacks is presented with breathtaking evidence by Taye Abayre in an article entitled 'World Bank: Anatomy of a Criminal Tribunal.' Suffice it to say that such a persistent, pernicious pattern of denying African staff due process in promotion cases, particularly those cases of African staff occupying the professional levels, whether by Bank management or its Tribunal, firmly institutionalizes the culture of obstructing Africans from influencing global policies that affect their continent's destiny. Depriving Africa of the wisdom of its own professional development experts leaves it orphaned.

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