According to an article by former World Bank officer Phyllis Muhammad on allafrica.com, the voting rights of three of the founding members of the bank—the U.S., China, and Ethiopia—tell the story. In 2007, the U.S. held 16 percent of the voting rights, China controlled 2.77 percent and Ethiopia accounted for a miniscule 0.08 percent. Even with a population of 77 million, Ethiopia carried less voting power than the Bahamas Islands, with a population 330,000. And Nigeria, with a population 150 million, held less voting rights than Kuwait, whose population is 2.5 million. Overall, sub Saharan Afrika, home for 30 percent of the world’s poor, was allotted 5.55 percent voting rights. The bank attempted to improve this in 2010, by approving a modest shift in voting rights in favor of developing countries. As a result, Latin America and China saw their voting rights increased a bit—China went from 2.77 to 4.42 percent. But Africa saw virtually no change—of the 47 countries in sub Saharan Afrika, Sudan was the only one that gained.
The lack of Afrika people in the bank’s decision-making ranks is surely a big part of the problem. While Afrika accounted for 50 percent of the Bank’s International Development Assistance (IDA) disbursements for poverty alleviation in 2010, people of Afrikan origin represented just 2.5 percent of the professional staff in the Development Economics (DEC) vice presidency, where the Bank’s poverty alleviation policies are shaped.
And if change is going to come, it likely will come from outside pressure because the racist culture inside is too ingrained. In 1997, a former director of the World Bank’s Loan Department explained why he was not recruiting black professionals: “Blacks make poor accountants and the department could not hire too many blacks as the department would look like a ghetto.” He suggested blacks should be kept in “the ghetto of the Bank,” a reference to the Bank’s Africa region. In fact, the bigotry inside World Bank headquarters is so pervasive that a street adjacent to the World Bank’s HQs is nicknamed “Apartheid Avenue.”
This past March 2012, when a group of former and current World Bank staff petitioned the World Bank Board of Directors to intervene, a member of the Board of Directors, after reading the documents submitted by the group proving the racist practices, wrote back to them: “Thank you for bringing this very disturbing and saddening matter to our attention. … [However] I am not in a position to provide you with a reasonable feedback… With kind regard and the Almighty’s guidance always.”
Muhammad,s article continues, that the Bank has been so focused on trying to improve its woeful gender inequity that it continues to promote white women over blacks. “Would the World Bank have tolerated such naked discrimination for so long had the victims been any other group?” Muhammad asks. “The answer is made obvious by its sustained actions to end gender discrimination. Racial discrimination continues unabated because the victims are black.”
The group Justice for Blacks wrote in its change.org petition that, “Allowing systemic injustice to stand without accountability and correction would amount to endorsing human rights violations,” “The Bank should not be treated as ‘too big to be held accountable’ and blacks should not be treated as ‘too little to count.’”