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Blacks at the World Bank have been subjected to degrading and dehumanizing treatment for long. In one particularly astounding case, a highly successful official was denied a deserved promotion because “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power”

Countless articles have been written adding their voice to the growing chorus demanding that black African, African American and Caribbean staff at the World Bank be treated as human beings with dignity and rights accorded to them by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are excellent articles not only in forcing the issue of racial discrimination to the fore, but also in exposing three disturbing points. First, they expose how far the Bank would go to cover up for accused managers. Second, they lay bare the World Bank Tribunal as a cruel caricature of Jim Crow courts from America’s dark past. Third, they throw light on donor nations’ thinly guised indifference ranging from “[we tried">, but we believe further engagement with the World Bank would not be productive” (US) to “we cannot get involved in individual cases of this nature” (UK). They leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that US’s, EU’s and other donor countries’ international aid human rights conditionality policies carry zero weight. With donor countries controlling the overwhelming majority of the voting rights of the World Bank there is very little African governments can do to protect the rights of their citizens in the World Bank, even if minded to do so.


Article 7 dictates: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.” Because of the Bank’s immunity from US courts, victims of discrimination are confined to an Administrative Tribunal that has denied them the protection of the law for decades. A 1999 report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), found the Bank’s grievance system “did not protect grievants’ rights or hold managers accountable in discrimination and harassment cases.” The US Treasury Department concurred writing that: “We believe that the GAO report presents a fair and accurate statement.” Since then, four independent reviews have reached the same conclusion.

The purpose of this article is to put a face and a name to an issue that has been mostly framed in general discussions and abstract numbers. I will present one case that I found profoundly beyond the pale of human decency: AI v. World Bank (2010). The story has been independently reviewed and verified by the US Government Accountability Project (GAP), the World Bank Staff Association, the US Treasury Department and the US Executive Director (ED) to the World Bank. This is not an isolated case, but a reflection of breathtaking injustice that blacks are subjected to. Here is the story as summarized independently by GAP and Justice for Blacks. I am liberally borrowing from their reports where needed to avoid the risk of misrepresentation.

Dr. AI was charged by the World Bank to reform its International Comparison Programme (ICP) after an independent evaluation established the Programme was on the verge of collapse. The team Dr. AI led worked with the Bank’s external partners and built a highly successful programme. His performance was rated “outstanding” and he was praised by his superiors in his official evaluation record for “an excellent job of developing global and regional proposals, building partnerships, working with the team and bringing together research, advocacy, financing, project planning…”

Shortly thereafter, his director told him that the Programme had become too “high profile” for him and a white Global Manager (GM) was hired. Between 2002 and 2008, Dr. AI served as deputy GM. In this position he was charged with managing the Programme in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. His annual performance evaluations were consistently “Outstanding” and “Superior.” Once again, the Bank was faced with a dilemma when the GM retired. Dr. AI was in line to become acting GM or GM, but the Bank was not prepared to appoint a black man as Acting GM or GM for a high profile global programme. The solution the Bank chose was to retain the retired GM as a consultant with GM title. The problem with this was Bank rules do not allow consultants to work full-time or perform managerial duties. As a result, Dr. AI was asked to “take over all the day-to-day coordination of the program and the Global Office team” without Acting GM or GM title. Meanwhile, a short-term consultant was fronted as GM to the external world for close to two years without working fulltime or managing anything.

At first the Bank blamed its external partners … Dr. AI was told the Bank could not appoint him GM because “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power.” He filed complaints and his case was reviewed by the Bank’s Appeals Committee. Three Bank officials including Dr. AI’s director testified under oath before the Appeals Committee that (i) “filling the GM post was the authority of the Bank’s external partners and the Bank had no hand in appointing GM;” and (ii) “the Bank advocated to appoint Dr. AI to GM position, but the external partners opposed.” All this was patently false and the Bank’s external partners were prepared to testify, but the Appeals Committee rejected Dr. AI’s basic due process right to call witnesses. In its ruling the Committee took note that some of the Bank’s actions could not be explained by “business reasons.” As such, it “strongly recommended” the Bank “immediately resolve the complaint through mediation.” The Bank rejected the Committee’s recommendations and subsequently terminated Dr. AI.

The Bank’s complex web of lies began to unravel after Dr. AI took his case to the Tribunal … The Tribunal allowed the Bank’s external partners to testify and they testified under oath that the Bank’s sworn testimonies during the Appeals Committee’s proceedings were patently false. Having faced total rebuke from its external partners, the Bank had to concoct a new storyline that was starkly different from what it established under oath. The new story line was that Dr. AI lacked relevant ICP experience and, therefore, did not qualify for GM position. There was problem with this claim. Dr. AI’s official HR record included a statement written and signed by his director stating:

“[Dr. AI"> has been Deputy Global Manager of ICP. He is a very strong performer managing one of the most critical programs the Bank has ever managed. He has multiple roles in the global management of ICP. He is praised for his many skills.”

To give credence to the new claim the Bank falsified Dr. AI’s HR record and declared that the above quoted and many other similarly laudatory remarks in his official HR file are “overinflated” and therefore they are effectively null and void. Every project that Dr. AI managed and for which he was given “outstanding” performance evaluation for six years was totally erased from the record. Having erased and or declared null and void substantial chunks of his employment record, the Bank claimed he could not be appointed GM for ICP because he lacked “proven direct management experience.”

Over a dozen high level officials of international and national organizations (including heads and chief economists) sent written testimonials confirming Dr. AI’s outstanding role as deputy GM and rejecting the Bank’s false claims, but the World Bank stood firm with its forged documents and false claims. Even the judgment report by the Bank’s Appeals Committee that “recognized Dr. AI as a tenured, talented and hard-working staff member who has earned the opportunity to perform the GM functions” was recanted by the Bank with the help of forged documents.


The Tribunal’s proceedings and judgment represent systemic and gross judicial misconduct bordering on the criminal. Dr. AI took his case to the Tribunal alleging that he was denied GM position because of the colour of his skin. The first question one of the judges asked him at the hearing was: “what was it being designated Global Manager that is so magical to have led you to this stage where you think it was a loss to the rest of the world?” Dr. AI’s lawyer interjected: “May I ask a clarifying question?” The judge snapped back: “No, You can't ask me questions, obviously.”

In contrast, the accused was treated with utmost respect. During the course of the hearing, the President of the Tribunal asked Dr. AI’s director, who is an Iranian: “The controversy about discrimination, what do you have to say about that?” She responded: “I don't know what to say, I mean, seriously. You see I'm not sort of a European blonde… How could I discriminate against somebody else?” The President, who happened to be a European blonde, ended his question with a polite “Thank you.”

The example below shows the Tribunal’s total disregard for basic due process. This is one of over two dozen egregious examples of violation of due process. One of Dr. AI’s primary allegations was that the Bank used a white consultant, who was not managing anything, to front as a manager when it was he who was actually managing the programme but kept behind because of the colour of his skin. The Tribunal asked the Bank to provide “a comparative list of the tasks managed by Dr. AI and the tasks managed by the [consultant">” during the period under investigation. The Bank, however, changed the question and submitted a response under the title “Comparative List of Tasks between Dr. AI and the [consultant">.” Conspicuously, the Bank dropped the two references to “managed by” because it could not say the person managed anything as a short term consultant and cannot admit Dr. AI managed anything after his managerial record was wiped out. The list presented all the tasks that the person supported as a consultant, but did not manage. The Tribunal not only allowed the Bank to change the question but also accepted its response to the modified question and ruled “The Bank has provided a non-discriminatory business rationale for its decision” and summarily dismissed Dr. AI’s claim.

Dr. AI’s Attempt to Salvage His Future

Having spent over $80,000 in legal fees and presented over 2,300 pages of well-founded claims to no avail, Dr. AI came to terms with the gross injustice and focused his energy on salvaging his future. His lawyer approached the Bank and proposed to drop his termination claims in exchange for an official letter from the Bank confirming his management roles and responsibilities. Dr. AI provided a sample letter including strictly direct quotations from his old HR files. He explained that he needed his official management track record to seek employment elsewhere. After a meeting with the Bank’s lawyers, Dr. AI’s lawyer sent him an email:

“… The Bank did agree to a letter of ‘recommendation,’ although they insisted it would have to be purely factual and not characterize your work in any way, so your proposed letter would have to be substantially edited, but still might give you something – but not much… I am certain this is the end of the road as far as settlement is concerned.”

The Bank insisted Dr. AI’s official employment history needed to be substantially edited. This apparently would involve deleting all the “outstanding” performance ratings of Dr. AI’s official evaluation ratings record fearing that releasing any statement from his unadulterated HR record would expose the perjury its senior managers and high-powered lawyers committed.


On July 8, 2010, the GAP submitted a 10-page report to the US ED establishing the Tribunal’s violation of Dr. AI’s due process rights and asking his assistance to accord Dr. AI access to an external arbitration to resolve his pending termination case. The US ED, in turn, involved the US Treasury. Having extensively reviewed the Tribunal’s miscarriage of justice, the US Treasury concluded the request for external arbitration was warranted and asked the Bank to resolve Dr. AI’s pending termination claims through external arbitration. The request was based on the Lugar-Leahy Amendment that requires the Bank to avail whistleblowers such as Dr. AI access to an independent adjudicative body. Unfortunately, the Bank rejected the request and the US Treasury told Dr. AI there was nothing more the US government could do. Alas, forget the constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection of the law.

Dr. AI was left with no choice but to appear before the same Tribunal that denied him justice in his prior case. The Tribunal reviewed his termination and found it was "unlawful", "arbitrary," “capricious,” “a violation of due process,” and “an abuse of discretion,” yet ruled that the Bank should not reinstate him. The judgment stated: “Neither the Tribunal’s Statute nor its Rules require that the Tribunal must order reinstatement when it finds a termination decision to be arbitrary.”


Having exhausted all the proper administrative and internal justice systems, a group of current and former black staff contacted several EDs to intervene in light of systemic discrimination and gross violation of due process of the law. Many did not even bother to respond. The former ED to the UK responded saying “Neither my office nor the Secretary of State for International Development is able to get involved in individual cases of this nature, which need to be pursued through the proper channels.” This is substantially incorrect and misleading. As ED both she and the International Development Secretary, who is the UK Governor of the Bank, have an institutional obligation, as well as other international obligations at law to look into systemic human rights violations of this very nature.


Shedding light on the MDBs financial structures, policies, practices and internal administrative policies, Percy Mistry (a former high-level official at the World Bank) wrote that members of the Board of Directors from developing countries are seen as “supplicants if not mendicants” with little if any power to exercise. Ignored by the powerful Governors of the Bank and denied access to legal redress, blacks at the World Bank have been subjected to degrading and dehumanizing treatments for decades and there is no abatement in sight. Apparently, this is why Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist wrote in the Atlanta Black Star: “the bigotry inside the World Bank headquarters is so pervasive that massive internal change is needed if the situation is going to improve—change that likely will come from outside pressure because the racist culture inside is too ingrained.” It is time that American Civil and Human Rights leaders say in unison: “Not in our backyard and not in our time!”


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* Elaine Colville, a British citizen, is a former World Bank staff. She can be reached at [email protected]