Uganda’s former minister of state for water and Member of Parliament Amuru, Betty Bigombe, has been dismissed from her job as senior director of fragility, conflict, and violence at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC.
Saroj Kumar Jha, a former regional director for Central Asia and a ten-year veteran of the Bank, replaced her.
Bigombe’s appointment to the senior director position was shrouded in controversy after African Finance ministers criticized the Bank leadership for not doing enough to increase African representation in the upper echelons of Bank management.
In a stinging article published by DEVEX, a social enterprise and influential media platform for the global development community, the World Banks lack of diversity came up for discussion.
“We learned how during the Banks recent Spring Meetings, Kim abruptly left a meeting with African finance ministers who sit on the board of governors after being asked why not a single African is among the new senior directors for global practice and cross-cutting areas.”
An inside source in the Bank said the expulsion of Bigombe is an implementation of a policy that tends to favour ‘economic strength representation.’
“We have no voice, and our countries are not financial heavyweights, it is easy to dismiss a Ugandan than a Chinese, Japanese or South Korean,” said the insider who did not want their name used for fear of reprisal.
Another staffer at the Bank mentioned two theories that could have led to the departure of Bigombe.
When the Obama administration appointed Jim Yong Kim as president of the World Bank, his marching orders were to overhaul the cloistered institution.
The restructuring that Kim undertook instituted a two to three-year ceiling for all new hires and sought to realign the Banks departments to respond to emerging global threats.
Described as overzealous Kims approach targeted permanent staff at the Bank, who had become comfortable with the usual way of doing things.
Rattled by the new boss, one of the Banks most influential figures Mukhtar Diop the vice president for Africa, attempted to join the African Development Bank.
He did not get the job, and his overtures spilled into the Bank corridors.
He will be leaving in a couple of months.
Bank officials insinuated that Bigombe might have been a victim of the two to three-year ceiling, but others shot down this theory saying that she was appointed in July 2014 and was replaced in February 2016 several months before her tenure was due to expire.
The other theory is that Bank officials created an environment that afforded her no option but to throw in the towel.
When we contacted the Banks spokesman David M. Theis, was cagey about the reasons for her dismissal.
“Our human resources policy are respectful of confidentiality and therefore do not allow us for us to discuss the circumstances of staff departures,” he wrote in an email.
Informal discussions among African staff at the Bank intimated that the appointment of Saroj Kumar Jah shows the influence of the ‘Asia Mafia’ that has stiffened the back of the president, a former University professor who is currently facing the highest turnover of staff in recent memory.
Ugandans bruised by the abrupt departure of Bigombe are looking at another chance to nominate a candidate for the rotational executive director position that is expected to fall vacant in the coming months.
Richard Kaijuka, a former minister of trade who left after a corruption scandal, was the last Ugandan alternate executive director at the World Bank.
Former finance minister and current presidential advisor on the Bretton Woods institutions Maria Kiwanuka is heavily favoured to be Uganda’s candidate.
However, some Bank employees think she would be more suited for the influential vice presidency position, which will be vacated by Makhtar Diop of Senegal in the coming months.