Despite Africa’s rapid economic development, African nations are not fairly represented in groups such as the G-20 and the World Bank. The 2014 US-Africa Leaders Summit is a prime opportunity to fix this systemic racism plaguing global economic fora.
Congratulations to President Obama for hosting the US-Africa Leaders Summit. The summit is historic, measured not only by the number of African leaders it assembles but also by the depth and breadth of the issues it brings to the table. Similar summits have been hosted by China, Europe, India and Japan, sparking competition for Africa’s raw materials as well as for trade and investment opportunities. Such summits signify a paradigm shift, from an aid-centered ‘donor-recipient’ mindset to a partnership that is grounded in common interests and mutual respect.
The shift in paradigm is driven mainly by the growing economy in Africa. With the change in Africa’s economy has come a change in the world’s opinion of the continent. This is best reflected in the seismic shift in the editorial opinion of the Economist magazine whose cover page metamorphosed from depicting Africa as ‘The Hopeless Continent’ in 2000 to ‘Africa Rising’ in 2011 and ‘Africa Aspiring’ in 2013. The magazine noted: ‘African lives have already greatly improved over the past decade [and"> the next ten years will be even better’. It is not only Africa’s economy that is growing -- so is its population. This spells ‘Big Market.’ The growing appetite for Africa’s raw materials fueled by China’s and India’s hyper growth has further enhanced the continent’s importance in the global economic calculus.
One important issue that should be discussed at the Summit is the need to give Africa voice in global economic forums. For example, the Group of Twenty (G-20) has only one country from Africa (South Africa). In contrast, South America is represented by three countries and Asia by five. At its core, the G-20 is a platform for global economic cooperation. An Africa Summit, whether it is hosted by the US, Europe, or Asia, cannot talk about Africa being an integral part of the world economy while keeping it on the periphery of the global economic governance structure. The Summit should, therefore, call upon the G-20 to invite Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, as a full-fledged member to increase Africa’s voice in its ranks.
Another important issue is increasing Africa’s voice in the World Bank. This has structural and cultural dimensions. The structural issue is that the Bank’s governance arrangement has denied Africa voice in the institution’s boardroom. The top ten African economies, comprising 2.5 trillion international dollars (I$) in total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 542 million in population, are allotted 2.4 percent voting rights on the World Bank’s Board. I$ accounts for differences in the purchasing power of currencies. In contrast, Italy with I$2 trillion GDP and 60 million population wields more voting power. Nigeria with 170 million population and I$1 trillion GDP has 0.65 percent voting right. By comparison, Switzerland with 8 million people and I$434 billion GDP has 1.63 percent voting rights. The Bank’s governance architecture reflects the outdated donor-recipient mindset rather than the new global economic order.
The cultural dimension deals with an institutional racism that has excluded Africans in the World Bank’s day-to-day management and administration. Since 1978, the US Congressional Black Caucus has persistently requested that the World Bank eradicate the dehumanizing culture of racism that has taken roots behind the veil of the Bank’s immunity from legal accountability. Similarly, in 1979, members of the African Board of Governors first raised the issue of ‘systemic racial discrimination’ during the World Bank’s Annual Meeting in Belgrade. They, too, have persisted in raising this issue on a regular basis, but to no avail. The last time members of the African Board of Governors raised the exclusion of Africans in the Bank’s management was during the 2014 Annual Meeting in Washington. This resulted in confrontation with President Kim who stormed out of the meeting, leaving the African Governors of the Bank shocked and angry. He later sent a letter of apology and promised to hire more African managers.
In February 2014, prominent American civil rights organizations, including the Rainbow PUSH Coalition of which I am the Founder and President, formed a coalition for the sole purpose of putting an end to systemic racial injustice. The coalition submitted four specific proposals to the World Bank president. Unfortunately, the president showed no interest in curing the systemic ills, promising instead to deal with the most visible symptoms such as the absence of Black managers. He would not even allow Blacks access to justice outside of the Bank’s handmaiden Tribunal that the Bank’s own confidential reports have found time and again unfit to adjudicate racial discrimination claims. During the month of July representatives of over 500 faith-based organizations signed a petition supporting the Coalition’s four proposals and demanding that the US government bring to bear its financial leverage to catalyze fundamental reforms.
As Justice for Blacks (a group consisting of current and former Black staff) noted, apart from infringing on the human rights of Africans, institutionalized racism in the World Bank denies African countries the contributions of their citizens in the Bank’s policy decisions that determine the destiny of their people. It would be unthinkable for the African presidents to ignore this issue. The Washington Summit is the right platform, as the convener himself is an American descendent of Africa.
Rev Jesse Jackson Sr. is the Founder and President of Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
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