The American Conservative Organisations and Religious Establishments sent a open letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the World Bank's case of racism against Dr. Yonas Biru and Black employees in the Bank.
First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere belief that people of Ethiopian heritage hold great hope in the democratic vision and leadership you have demonstrated in the short time that you have been in office. American News Media from the conservative Fox News to the liberal The New York Times and many in between bestow accolades on you for your leadership, seemingly with an increasing frequency. Since 5 June 2018, The New York Times has published five articles about you. Over the last ten days, Fox News has published four.
Three days ago, Fox News heralded: “These are not ordinary times in Ethiopia. Sweeping changes that seemed unthinkable just weeks ago have been announced almost daily since a new prime minister, Africa’s youngest head of government, took office.” This is refreshing not only to Ethiopians in America but also to Americans, who are used to reading negative coverage about African leaders.
This is the first time in recent memory that Ethiopians feel they have a leader that honours and protects their human dignity and rights both in the Ethiopian proper and beyond its geographic boarders. I believe you, as an evangelist, are guided not only by political calculation but also by divine intervention.
It was with this belief that leaders of conservative American organisations copied you on a letter we sent to President Trump. The letter that was dated 29 May 2018 was sent to you through the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington.
One of the three key issues we raised in our letter to President Trump focused on a breath-taking racial injustice involving an Ethiopian national, Dr. Yonas Biru. Dr. Biru was the former Deputy Global Manager of the World Bank’s International Comparison Programme (ICP). According to the World Bank, the ICP is the “largest and most complex” international economic comparison programme in the world.
The World Bank’s official record shows that Dr. Biru was credited for “overhauling the ICP from the brink of collapse.” He was commended for “managing one of the most critical programmes the Bank has ever managed.” He was also credited for “managing and bringing to fruition important methodological innovations in critical areas that have created a lasting-legacy” and for “broadening the global partnership” for ICP.
The World Bank summed his leadership and management role stating: “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. The Programme just couldn’t be successful without his expertise and knowledge of key players.”
The problem started when Dr. Biru applied to become the Global Manager of ICP. As documented in numerous independent reports, including in United States Senator Chris Van Hollen’s 73-page report, the World Bank told him “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power.” A confidential document marked Dr. Biru “will not get a copy or see it” revealed the culprits were the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Monetary Fund.
In a brazen act of racism, the World Bank disqualified Dr. Biru from becoming Global Manager by retroactively downgrading his official personnel record. Senator Van ’s report provided hard evidence including copies of “Dr. Biru’s original performance record, the redacted version, as well as a list of the damaging citation that remain on the Bank’s website that contradicts Dr. Biru’s official performance record.”
The explanation for the criminal act was more dehumanising than the act itself. As documented in the Government Accountability Project’s (GAP’s) independent report, the World Bank “regretted” giving him an “overinflated” performance rating because “it had the unintended consequence of feeding into his megalomaniacal view of his performance and the resultant sense of entitlement to the Global Manager position.” An African applying to be Global Manager was regarded as megalomaniac in the World Bank’s written legal defence.
This is not all. The Hill (one of the prominent conservative newspapers in the United States), in 2017, affirmed that Dr. Biru was “disenfranchised of his hard-earned professional credentials because the World Bank deemed his record too good to be true for a black man.”
A liberal civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, in 2018, independently confirmed that the World Bank stripped Dr. Biru of his professional accomplishments, declaring his record “beyond the natural capability of a black man.”
The World Bank’s own official diversity report characterised the case as a “blatant and virulent case of racism.” The Bank’s Senior Advisor for Racial Equality condemned it as being “profoundly beyond the pale.” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim shrugged all voices of reasons and justice and retreated behind the veil of its immunity from lawsuits.
As Breitbart News (America’s most conservative newspaper) reported, Dr. Biru’s “case prompted the US Congress to pass a law.” However, the World Bank ignored the US law and has still refused to redress the injustice, hiding behind the curtains of its sovereign immunity status.
The Bank’s inexplicable stance that Dr. Biru’s record is “beyond the natural capability of a Black man” is an insult to the human race and represents an affront to [more than] one billion sub-Saharan Africans both in continental Africa and around the globe.
I write this letter in support of a letter Ethiopian Americans and Ethiopians in the United States sent you on 6 June 2018. Their letter stated: “Americans from Senators to Cabinet members, and from religious leaders to iconic civil rights advocates, have stood up for the Ethiopian. Sadly, our government’s silence has been deafening. We believe you have brought a new era for Ethiopians that has given us hope. We urge you respectfully to write to President Trump on behalf of all Ethiopians to express our collective outrage and request his intervention to restore Dr. Biru’s human dignity and rights.”
Most Americans have no doubt that if they travelled or lived in Africa and were disenfranchised of their lifelong professional accomplishments because of their Caucasian race, their government would speak up for them, rather forcefully and indignantly. In this context, we full-heartedly support the Ethiopian Americans and Ethiopians in America for reaching out to you.
But we believe the seriousness of the matter demands a more radical step of involving the African Union because this is not an isolated case. It reflects the Bank’s endemic and historic culture of racism against sub-Saharan Africans. Here are some highlights:
A 1998 World Bank Memorandum documented: “A World Bank report revealed cultural prejudice among some managers, who rated sub-Saharan Africans ‘unsophisticated and inferior.’”
A 2003 official World Bank report titled “Enhancing Inclusion at the World Bank, World Bank Report”, took note: “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.”
We are encouraged to write to you by your intervention to free Ethiopian citizens from Saudi Arabian and Egyptian prisons. We believe Dr. Biru’s case merits similar intervention from your end. The world is outraged by it. It is critical his government speaks out in his defence.
We pray for God’s blessings in guiding you to swift and unwavering action.
* Terry Beatley is President of Hosea Initiative and Author of What If We’ve Been Wrong? She can be reached at <[email protected]>