I see the idea of walking away from racial injustice head down and shoulder slumped to be beyond comprehension. It is that mentality that has allowed institutional racism in the World Bank to outlast apartheid. As of today, September 8, 2016, I will be on a hunger strike until the Bank fully restores my professional identity, and agrees to redress the irreparable damage it has caused my person and profession.
When it comes to racial discrimination in the World Bank, Phyllis Muhammad, former Staff Counselor, has seen it all. She noted recently that: The level of racial injustice that we are seeing under Kim “would not have persisted during Wolfensohn’s time. Those were the days the World Bank settled racial discrimination claims quietly by paying substantial compensation to complainants to keep the issue under wraps. But Kim appears to feel invincible, and I have no doubt that much of it has to do with his personal relationships with Obama and Hillary Clinton."
It took the National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner, Adam Silver, a few days to banish Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the professional game of basketball for life over racist remarks he made in a private phone conversation. Silver's swift action was partly triggered by the rapid exodus of the basketball franchise’s corporate sponsors.
The World Bank does not have corporate sponsors. Its sponsors are national governments and the single most influential government with the only veto power in critical areas of the Bank's governance is the US government. Anyone who has read The World's Banker by Sebastian Mallaby knows that nothing that the US does not tolerate happens in the World Bank.
President Obama happens to be a close personal friend and regular golf partner of World Bank President Kim.
Moreover, a recent article in Dartmouth’s Daily Blog titled "Kim Clinton Crony" and informed by leaked email exchanges between Kim and Secretary Clinton's staff noted: "Kim is intimate with the corridors of power in Washington."
Indeed, Kim’s Rolodex of close personal friends and political juggernauts includes the two most powerful Democrats in the US - President Obama and Presidential Nominee, Hillary Clinton. He has artfully used his political connections to avoid accountability.
In a recent tweet, Secretary Clinton reminded Mr. Trump: “There's an old Mexican proverb that says “Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.” This was in relation to Mr. Trump’s alleged friendship with a person who is accused of sexual harassment.
One wonders if Madame Clinton is aware that the old Mexican proverb is just as fitting to describe her relationship with Kim.
“Europeans are not used to seeing a Black man in power”
Although my case started during President Robert Zoellick’s time, what has transpired since President Kim took the helm is far worse. Mr. Zoellick may be guilty of nonfeasance for failing to act when he was under moral and institutional obligation to intervene.
By contrast, President Kim is guilty of malfeasance, engaging himself and the institution in a deliberate and systematic cover up.
The problem started in 2009 (before Kim came to power) when I expressed interest in becoming the Global Manager of the International Comparison Program (ICP), a program that I served as Team Leader and Deputy Global Manager for a total of eight years. The ICP is “the largest statistical undertaking in the world,” according to the Economist magazine.
The Bank advised me not to apply because "Europeans are not used to seeing a Black man in a position of power." I ignored the “advice” (a thinly guised instruction) and submitted my application.
There are four areas of core competencies that the Global Manager for ICP is expected to have. My official record in each one of them was: (i) "Exceptionally productive and very impressive" (partnership Building); (ii) "Extremely successful and highly praised" (global and regional program coordination); (iii) "Managed research and methodological innovations that have created a lasting legacy" (research management); and (iv) "responsible for the success of the ICP global fundraising effort" (fundraising).
I have the qualification. Indeed, the Bank’s Peer Review Panel reviewed my record and concluded that I was “talented, tenured and qualified to perform the Global Manager function.”
Nonetheless, the Bank saw my decision to submit my application as a direct challenge to the racial status quo and took drastic actions. It disavowed my official performance record and retrospectively degraded it. It went as far as deleting my managerial and leadership roles from its publications and websites. I was not qualified to hold any managerial position.
To top it off, the World Bank terminated me and posted the defamatory remarks on its website. My performance record was built over 17 years (9 years of technical work and 8 years of managerial responsibility).
The performance rating that was given to me because of my accomplishments was taken away because of my race to disqualify me from becoming the Global Manager of ICP.
Litigation in the Bank’s kangaroo Tribunal
As part of the UN organ, the World Bank exists outside of the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts. The only legal venue available to aggrieved staff is the World Bank Administrative Tribunal that is beholden to management, lock, stock and barrel.
In March 2010, the Tribunal ruled that the Bank's actions were justified by business reason and dismissed my racial discrimination claims. This was its official judgment.
Confidentially, the Tribunal acknowledged that the Bank’s legal defense was “dishonest”. I was copied inadvertently.
In October 2010 the Tribunal reviewed my termination case and found that it was "unlawful, capricious and a violation of due process." Nonetheless, it ruled that I should not be reinstated. The explanation was: "Applicant had criticized his managers and shown contempt to the organization."
Just like no Black person was allowed to prevail on racial discrimination charges in apartheid South Africa, no Black person is allowed to prevail on racial discrimination charges in the World Bank. It was the policy in the 20th Century South Africa. It is the policy in the 21st Century World Bank.
A recent article titled "I can no longer remain silent about racism in the World Bank," authored by a former member of the Bank's Senior Management Team, described the problem succinctly.
“Racial discrimination in the World Bank is a far more systemic and serious issue than any official is willing to admit. Successive Presidents have treated it as a can of worms that’s best kept closed. The Bank’s Administrative Tribunal exists to keep the can closed with a judicial seal and to shield senior management from accountability. “
What is currently outstanding is my fight to have my record restored. This is where Kim comes into the picture.
A performance record that is too-good-to-be-true for a Black man
Over four years after my termination, under relentless pressure from the US government and the DC Civil Rights Coalition, the Kim administration agreed to restore my record.
In February 2014, one of the Bank's lead HR officers, Mr. Fons Marcelis, sent me a memo stating that deleted parts of my managerial record "will be scanned into your staff record.”
Furthermore, the memo validated my record as "official.” See my website for hard evidence showing deleted records -- longerTHANapartheid.com
For four years (2009-2014), the Bank’s official position was that “I had no managerial responsibility” and “lacked credibility with the other partners in the international statistical system.”
In 2014, the official record that Mr. Marcelis sent me read in part: “Yonas has multiple roles in the Bank's global management, managing one of the most critical programs the Bank has ever managed... The Bank's role in managing the ICP is extremely important and high profile with many international partners involved in the work on day-to-day basis. Yonas’ work in managing sensitive relationships between stakeholders is very impressive. He is praised for his many skills.”
However, Mr. Marcelis said there was nothing he could do to withdraw the false and defamatory personnel remarks from the Bank's website.
Regarding my request to restore my name and leadership role that the Bank had deleted from several publications, Mr. Marcelis wrote: "There will be no comments from my side on Bank publications."
The reason behind this bizarre position is obvious. Some of the falsified record that is currently in the public domain was used by the Tribunal as the basis of its judgment to dismiss my racial discrimination claims in 2010.
Withdrawing the falsified record from the public domain will entail withdrawing the fraudulent evidence that the Bank had used in its defense that ended up being a part of the Tribunal's public judgment.
The Bank's General Counsel and Senior VP for Legal, Ms. Anne Marie Leroy, acknowledged that World Bank Staff Rule 2.01, Paragraph 5.03 requires “disclosure of personnel information if the appropriate Bank officials decide that it is necessary to correct false or misleading information” that is in the public domain.
She happened to be the highest "appropriate Bank official" to make that decision and her decision was that "the Bank has not deemed it necessary to disclose” the official record. Obviously, releasing the official record to public will expose the fraudulent evidence she had used during the Tribunal proceedings.
Ms. Leroy had to come up with an explanation for her legal defense. Her explanation was that whether the record that the HR vice president had restored in 2014 is official or not, as far as she was concerned it is “hagiographic” - too good to be true. “The Bank is not in the business of painting a hagiographic image of him," she asserted.
Most importantly, Ms. Leroy argued that the Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to review the matter, since it may result in reconsidering its judgment that was evidently based on forged documents and false sworn testimonies.
According to the Tribunal’s Statute (Article XIII), the only way the Tribunal can reconsider its judgment is “in the event of the discovery of a fact which by its nature might have had a decisive influence on the judgment of the Tribunal and which at the time the judgment was delivered was unknown both to the Tribunal and to [the party filing the appeal].”
Stripped of its legalese, the Bank's defense was that the Tribunal was well aware of the fraudulent evidence that the Bank used during the Tribunal proceedings. The Tribunal was not defrauded. It was a willful recipient of fraudulent evidence. Indeed, the Tribunal's confidential memo that characterized the Bank's defense as "dishonest" is evidence of that.
The Bank effectively argued that there was nothing new about the falsified record that the Tribunal did not know about. Therefore, within the strict interpretation of Article XIII, the Tribunal has no jurisdiction to review the Bank’s decision to have two personnel record for me – one official and one confidential.
My confidential record in the Bank’s staff archives acknowledges my stellar management record. The public record on the Bank’s website maintains I “had no managerial duty.”
The starkly different positions held by the Bank’s HR unit and the General Counsel is strictly an administrative issue that needs to be addressed administratively. The buck stops with President Kim.
President Kim's cover-up is worse than the crime committed before he took power
On August 5, 2013, the former Policy Director of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Mr. Hasan Christian, wrote to me stating that the Kim administration and the Bank's minority associations had commissioned an investigative study jointly on diversity issues and the Bank would take appropriate actions based on the findings of the study.
Mr. Christian stated: "We have been given assurances that the joint study between the minority staff [associations] and the bank will provide an accurate and up to date assessment of what needs to be done..."
As it turned out, the report found my case as "a blatant and virulent case of racism.” The course of action President Kim took was to embargo the report for nearly a year while he lobbied the Congressional Black Caucus and the DC Civil Rights Coalition to stop supporting my case.
He managed to thwart a petition that had already been signed by 24 of the 44-member Congressional Black Caucus.
In addition, President Kim's Chief of Staff, Ms. Yvonne Tsikata, called Revered Jesse Jackson's office to let them know that President Kim would be willing to meet with national civil rights leaders, if the DC Civil Rights Coalition agreed to drop my case from their agenda. Ms. Tsikata’s request was rejected at the time.
Kim’s all too often heralded rhetoric that he has “zero tolerance for racial discrimination” is a PR gimmick and a longstanding corporate tongue-in-cheek mantra.
The Obama Administration
For decades, the US government had no legal means to rein in the World Bank because of the Bank's immunity from lawsuits. This changed in 2012 when Congress passed a law to block US funding to the World Bank until it grants its staff access to external arbitration.
The law made President Obama the first US president with a potent legal instrument to protect the rights of African Americans and other people of African origin employed by the World Bank.
But Kim has nothing to fear. He has misled, manipulated, and used his access to the Democratic power center to block the enforcement of the law.
Why resort to a hunger strike
I am not prepared to accept a situation where my identity and reputation as a person and professional is disenfranchised without access to justice in the 21st century.
Some would find the idea of going on a hunger strike taking it overboard. I see the idea of walking away from racial injustice head down and shoulder slumped to be beyond comprehension. It is that mentality that has allowed institutional racism in the World Bank to outlast apartheid.
As of today, September 8, 2016, I will be on a hunger strike. My hunger strike will continue until the Bank fully restores my professional identity, and agrees to redress the irreparable damage it has caused my person and profession.
A Call for action to enforce an existing US law
I am asking advocates of social justice to condemn the racist policy of the World Bank and call upon the Obama administration to block US funding to the World Bank pursuant to the US Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2012. (Please see my website – longerTHANapartheid.com – to see what action you can take.)
The 2012 Appropriations Act requires the US government to withhold its financial support to the World Bank until it agrees to grant its staff access to independent adjudicative bodies, including external arbitration.
The US Treasury has reviewed my case and determined that external arbitration “seemed warranted."