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In recent years, over two dozen articles have appeared in African American and African media detailing deep-rooted institutional racism against Black workers at the World Bank. Conspicuously, the Western media has kept the issue out of its radar screen. But branding Africa as "a hopeless continent" comes naturally to the Western media pontiffs.

‘Tropical Gangsters’, a book about the leaders of Equatorial Guinea, was one of the six best nonfiction books in 1990, according to the editors of the New York Times Book Review.

Authored by Robert Klitgaard, a former Harvard economics professor turned World Bank consultant, and aptly subtitled "one man's experience with development and decadence in deepest Africa," the book was as much about an accidental messiah who is tasked to save Equatorial Guinea from itself as it was about the messy reality of the African nation. An emblematic story of Africa in more ways than one.

The President of Equatorial Guinea and his henchmen were depicted as gangsters with a sense of entitlement of a feudal nobility and the unmitigated cruelty of a ruthless dictator, unaccustomed to social justice and work ethics.

It appears that the only area that the Professor gave currency to the thoughts of his subjects was when it came to their lavish and messianic perception of him.  Government officials reportedly told him that he was "the first adviser who wants to teach us." The President found him as "very rare" among the ranks of international advisors.

The Professor capably managed to weave together his own outsize ego with the lofty mission of the World Bank in the background, leaving the foreground for the "tropical gangsters" to perform part humorous and part tragic defiant dance against human development and economic progress.

The book got so much global attention as "compelling" and even "entertaining" not so much because Equatorial Guinea is a particularly entertaining place or a geopolitical epicenter, but because in the grand scheme of things it was seen as an extreme microcosm of Sub Saharan Africa.

The Professor found the ignorance of Guinean leaders both as "extreme" and "prototypical." He believed that "The equatorial Guinea is one of the most backward countries in the world. But an extreme case may help us see more clearly what is happening in more typical instances."

A decade later, in 2000, the Economist Magazine condemned Africa as "the Hopeless Continent," using Sierra Leone as Exhibit 1.  Since the difficulties facing "Sierra Leone seemed so intractable, and since Sierra Leone seemed to epitomise so much of the rest of Africa," the Magazine opined, "the world might just give up on the entire continent."

No matter who narrated Africa's story, African leaders of the time  emerged as a nihilistic if not primordial breed, ignorant of the basic principles of economics, devoid of morality, and bereft of basic human conscience - uniquely hopeless and hopelessly unique.

The common thread that ran through the narrative was a culture of lawlessness and absolute impunity that fueled naked corruption and brought the populace into submission through intimidation and sheer terror. The same frame of mind persists to this day, albeit the narrative has become increasingly less snarky.


In recent years, over two dozen articles have appeared in African American and African newspapers with such titles as "World Bank compares African staff to Animal in official report"; "Apartheid avenue two blocks from the White House"; "Institutionalized racism in the World Bank: A crime against humanity"; and "Apartheid a la Banque Mondiale."

Conspicuously, the Western media has kept the issue out of its radar screen, pushing it back deep into its blind spot. Branding Africa as "a hopeless continent" may bode well with the psychological predispositions of the editors of Western newspapers. Such title as "The World Bank a hopeless racist" stands in absolute contravention of their predisposed perceptions.


The story is hard to believe, even harder to write about, but for the fact that it has been reviewed and verified by numerous independent entities, including the US Treasury and both Chambers of the US Congress.

Dr. Biru was employed by the World Bank for nearly 17 years. His last position was Deputy Global Manager of the International Comparison Program (ICP).

The ICP, the world's largest statistical undertaking, compares economic levels, cost of living differences, and the purchasing power of currencies in over 180 countries. It is co-sponsored by many international agencies.  The ICP Global Office is housed and managed by the World Bank. The ICP Global Executive Board (consisting of high-level officials of international agencies) provides general guidance on the program's institutional, organizational and methodological issues.

As noted in GAP's 10-page report, as the Deputy Global Manager of ICP, "Dr. Biru received outstanding performance reviews for seven years and had the second highest evaluation ratings" in a department that had over 100 staff. Despite his stellar performance record, his application for the Global Manager position was denied because "Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power."


The Bank took a sworn position before the PRS that Dr. Biru was well qualified to assume the global manager function. His director testified under oath that she was prepared to appoint him as the ICP global manager, but the ICP Executive Board rejected her proposal. She claimed that her "heart was broken" but she had to follow "the directives" of the ICP Board. Her story was patently false and she would later admit this and retract it.

The PRS Panel, chaired by one of the Bank's former vice presidents (Dr. Inger Andersen) reviewed the case and rendered two judgments: official and confidential. Officially, the Panel acknowledged Dr. Biru as "tenured, talented and qualified" for the position, but "he was not entitled to have the function assigned to him at any particular time.” (original emphasis). In the meantime, the Panel strongly recommended that “the Bank take immediate measures” and “immediately enter into binding mediation."

Confidentially, the Panel informed the Bank that it didn’t rule in Dr. Biru's favor because it didn’t want to set a precedent in a racial discrimination case. The Panel urged the Bank to take administrative actions in his favor. The former HR vice president, Hasan Tuluy, rejected the Panel's recommendations and told Dr. Biru to take his case to the World Bank Administrative Tribunal. As the GAP report noted, "The Bank never denied the existence or content of this memo, but refused to release it claiming that it had 'no relevance' to the case..."


The external ICP Executive Board debunked the Bank's false claims. Dr. Biru's director was forced to admit during the Tribunal's recorded hearings that her sworn statements before the PRS Panel were false. The new storyline was that she was the one who rejected Dr. Biru's application because "he was not qualified for the position."

To give credence to this storyline the Bank brazenly falsified Dr. Biru's HR record. Even more brazen was that it also falsified the ICP Executive Board's list, dropping Board members who were actively supporting Dr. Biru and adding imposters who were designated to defame Dr. Biru with false assertions that "the Board felt Yonas is not ready to take on the Global Manager position" and "lacked international credibility."

The Tribunal accepted the forged list and the false testimonies of the imposters, even after they were rejected by the national and international agencies they were supposedly representing. The government of Canada and the Asian Development Bank went on the record rejecting the forged Board list. The Tribunal officially ruled that the Bank's actions were justified by business reason and summarily dismissed Dr. Biru's case.

The public judgment contradicted a confidential email exchange between the Tribunal judges and the Executive Director of the Tribunal, referring to the Bank's legal defense as "dishonest." Dr. Biru was copied inadvertently.


Under pressure from the US Treasury and members of both Chambers of the US Congress the Bank agreed to restore Dr. Biru's deleted HR record. Nonetheless, it refused to withdraw the falsified HR record from its and the Tribunal's websites.

As a result, currently, the Bank maintains two HR records for Dr. Biru. Internally, the restored record reads: "As Deputy Global Manager he is praised for his many skills. His work in managing sensitive relationships between international stakeholders is very impressive. The global program just couldn’t be successful without his technical expertise and knowledge of key players."

Externally, the false and irreparably defamatory record that is currently on the Tribunal website reads: "He had no management responsibility in the Bank’s global management. He lacks credibility with the international community..... Some of the international agencies do not want to work with him. They fear global project would be put at risk if he was made global manager."

The Staff Association's position is clear on this issue. The Association believes that it is of paramount importance that the Bank takes “appropriate measures to ensure that a staff member who is accused publicly but exonerated privately is provided by [the] Bank with the support necessary to minimize, if not eliminate, the dire consequences that can result.... The Bank cannot count on continuing to send staff out onto the front lines of highly visible projects every day if those staff do not feel they will be protected in the event that false accusations are broadcast.”

Similarly, in several judgments the Tribunal has affirmed that it will not hesitate to hold the Bank accountable for defamation, especially when "the Bank's actions and inactions caused professional and personal harm to its staff or former staff." (see Andres Pizarro v. World Bank, Decision No. 507 - 2015).  


In 2014 and 2015 Dr. Biru filed two appeals, requesting he Tribunal to instruct the Bank to confirm his official managerial record to prospective employers to mitigate the damage he continues to suffer by the false and defamatory public record.

The Bank's first line of defense was that it cannot confirm Dr. Biru's managerial record because of HR confidentiality restrictions. But this was not a tenable position because in the past the Tribunal had ruled that the Bank must take "take reasonable steps to protect the interests or mitigate reputational harm of staff members..."  

The Tribunal has also highlighted in its judgment in other cases that "The Bank recognizes an obligation to safeguard the reputation of [staff]... It is for this reason that the Staff Rules include provisions on confidentiality.... Staff Rule 2.01, paragraph 5.03 provides that: Personnel Information may be disclosed outside the Bank Group... [if and where] disclosure is necessary to correct false or misleading information."

During the 2014-2015 Appeal proceedings the Bank once again changed its defense strategy. It acknowledged Dr. Biru's official record that recognized him as "internationally praised deputy global manager of ICP with multiple roles in the Bank's global management, managing one of the most critical programs the Bank has ever managed." This was an official admission that its sworn statements before the Tribunal in 2010 that Dr. Biru "had no management responsibility and lacked international credibility" were false.

It is worth reiterating that the Bank was compelled to admit during the Tribunal hearing in 2010 that its sworn claims before the PRS Panel in 2008 were false. Once again in 2015, during Dr. Biru's appeals proceedings, the Bank effectively acknowledged that its sworn statements during the Tribunal's proceedings  in 2010 were false.

The Bank had no room to wiggle. Dr, Biru's appeal was well founded and the Bank's Rules, the Staff Association's stand and even the Tribunal's precedence were all in favor of Dr. Biru.

Nonetheless, the Bank took an outright racist stand. It argued that Dr. Biru's restored "official" HR record is too good to be true: "The Bank is not in the business of painting a hagiographic image of him." Therefore it will neither confirm his managerial role to prospective employers nor withdraw the falsified HR record on its and the Tribunal's websites.

Such breathtaking injustice is committed to keep an African from holding a global manager position because "Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power." This in an institution whose numerous diversity reports admit that Black employees are denied high profile positions because of "the color of their skin."


Any vocal dissent against the Bank is dealt with harsh punishment. Dr. Biru was terminated unlawfully. According to GAP's independent review "Dr. Biru was instructed to produce a synthesis of six papers by March 2. At the same time, he was told that he would not receive the papers to be summarized until April 15. One reason cited for his termination was his failure to meet the impossible March 2 deadline."

The Staff Association has been silenced by fear and kept out of the issue. The last time the Association raised the issue was in 2005. It maintained its silence even after the Bank's 2015 diversity report found that the Bank has not met the minimum threshold where institutions "develop an intentional identity as an 'anti-racist' institution and begin to develop accountability to [their] racial and ethnic constituents."

That "a culture of fear pervades the World Bank Group" was decried in the Staff Association's "Open Letter to President Kim" in 2015. An article by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) found "the World Bank rife with 'fear and retaliation'", while the Huffington Post queried, "How much money is the World Bank spending to intimidate staff?"


The World Bank electronically monitors staff members who are reading Pambazuka News and Paul Cadario's Facebook posts. Pambazuka has been targeted because it has become the primary platform where World Bank racial discrimination issues are discussed. Mr. Cadario, a retired World Bank senior official, has over 200 current and former World Bank staff following him on Facebook. Mr. Cadario's Facebook is monitored because he has been a vocal critic of the Bank's retaliatory culture.

On June 28, 2015, Mr. Cadario posed on his Facebook timeline the following: "I learned today that three director-level staff -- former colleagues of mine -- were threatened with consequences after they had 'liked' postings on my Facebook timeline. They were 'told' to unlike things, just a few minutes after they had been posted. I had heard first hand from two more junior ex-colleagues who were similarly warned and told what to do by their managers. They are all credible, and I have no reason to doubt what I was told."

The closer one looks at the World Bank the more evident the title "Harvard Gangsters Running the World Bank" appears and the more deafening the silence of the Western Media becomes.

* Mikael Mohapi is a penname for a current World Bank staff.



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* Please send comments to [email=[email protected]]editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org[/email] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Comments (2)

  • Editor's picture

    Dear Editor, The article "Harvard gangsters running the World Bank and the silence of the Western media" adds substantively to the many articles you have published on institutionalized racism in the World Bank, including "Institutionalized racism in the World Bank: a crime against humanity." The article is a bit long, but once I went past the first three paragraphs I did not want it to end. It was painful to read. I have two sons (mixed race), but the world sees them as black. Reading such stories shakes the very foundation of people's trust in the law, in society and people. It is a shame. In 2003, the UN General Assembly condemned "extreme form of institutionalized racism", as "a crime against humanity, an affront to the dignity of mankind." It is a shame not only to the World Bank but also to the Media that has turned a blind eye and to African leaders who have allowed a crime against their people. Gelila Harrison

    Apr 02, 2016
  • selam's picture

    Does the World Bank President know his country is free because Ethiopians fought and died for his freedom? In a recent autobiography, titled "Son of Virginia: A Life in America’s Political Arena," the former Virginia State in the US Governor L. Douglas Wilder’s wrote about his experience during the Korean war: “The best ground fighters of all were the Ethiopians... If I knew that the Ethiopians were either to my left or to my right, I relaxed a little.” Kim's people did not return Ethiopian solders who were fighting for Korea saying you are too good o be true. What an irony that a Korean is discriminating against an Ethiopian. As an Ethiopian myself the irony is not los on me.

    Apr 03, 2016