Racism At The World Bank? Some Allege African Countries Overlooked

December 31, 2012  |  

An anti-International Monetary Fund World Bank protest in Japan this October. AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

The World Bank was founded in 1944 and over the years it has become a controversial body.

Officially it is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programs. It’s main goal is to  reduce poverty. The World Bank is owned by 186 member governments, which means each member country is a shareholder of the bank. Shares are allotted to each country depending on the size of its economy — the larger the economy, the more share. All the members vote on issues, but the number of votes each member gets is again based on its economy. The bank has a “one-dollar-one-vote” structure — which critics claim give richer countries more power in the decision-making process.

The largest single shareholder had been the United States with 16.41 percent of votes, followed by Japan (7.87 percent), Germany (4.49 percent), the United Kingdom (4.31 percent) and France (4.31 percent), according to Bank Information Center. The 47 sub-Saharan African nations combined had less than six percent of the votes.

The World Bank said it tried to rectify the discrepancy in the voting process in 2010 when voting powers were changed so that developing countries, especially China, have a bigger vote. The countries with most voting power are now the United States (15.85 percent), Japan (6.84 percent), China (4.42 percent), Germany (4.00 percent), France (3.75 percent) and the United Kingdom (3.75 percent). Some countries, such as Brazil, India, South Korea and Mexico, saw big gains under the changes.  But still, Africa is low on the list.

And it is not just the voting process that has received complaints. Some observers say that the World Bank is used to advance US or Western interests in certain parts of the world. It doesn´t help squash these concerns when the President of the World Bank is always a citizen of the United States and is nominated by the President of the United States.

Now some believe the institution may be plagued by racism, not just in voting power, but systemically. “The modern mission of the World Bank is to alleviate world poverty, but although Asia and Africa are home to 80 percent of the world’s poor, the racism of the bank is so deeply entrenched and pervasive that the nations of Africa have virtually no say over the bank’s policies and actions and blacks have no presence in its internal operations according to an article by former World Bank officer Phyllis Muhammad on allafrica.com,” writes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nick Chiles in The Atlanta Black Star.

Staffing at the organization is also an issue. “While Africa accounted for 50 percent of the Bank’s International Development Assistance (IDA) disbursements for poverty alleviation in 2010, people of African 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,” reports Chiles.

Various protests have developed over the years. For example,  group called Justice for Blacks has started a petition drive on Change.org asking Human Rights Watch to investigate the bank’s human rights violations, Chiles continues.

Critics are calling for a rehaul in the way the Bank does business–inside and outside its halls.

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