By Yosef Assefa
My name is Yosef Assefa. I am an Ethiopian American and a real estate professional in the State of Maryland in the US. I am the coordinator of a group we named “Ethiopian Americans for Justice for Dr. Yonas Biru.” We have hundreds of Ethiopians supporting Dr. Biru in his protracted fight against the World Bank. Our campaign in the US has been successful. The American government and the civil rights community have been responsive across the liberal-conservative political spectrum.
Dr. E. Fay Williams, a leading African American Civil Rights leader wrote the following about Dr. Yonas. “Rare is the case when conservatives and liberals, from Dr. Ben Carson to Reverend Jesse Jackson, and from Breitbart News to The Afro American Newspapers, join voices with leaders of over 500 faith-based organizations to bring to light institutionalized racial discrimination in the U.S. Even rarer is the case when U.S. lawmakers from both Chambers of Congress request three U.S. government agencies – Departments of State, Treasury and Justice – to investigate a racial discrimination case. Despite it all, justice has not been rendered.”
Justice has not been served for two reasons. First, as a liberal and an ardent supporter of President Obama, I am ashamed to say the Obama administration was actively involved in covering up President Jim Yong Kim’s crime against Dr. Biru. There is no other way to sugarcoat the shame.
The second reason is that Dr. Biru is an Ethiopian national. Though he has lived in the US for 40 years, he still holds an Ethiopian passport. Had he been an American citizen, his case would have been solved years ago. But he believes he is “An Ethiopian by the Grace of God” and would not see himself becoming a citizen of any other country.
The purpose of this article is to share how much he is praised by the international community at the highest level and completely ignored by his motherland. The following quotations are taken from several independent reports including those by US Senator Chris Van Hollen and the DC Civil Rights Coalition led by Reverend Jesse Jackson. I am listing only a few because of space limitation. There are more than two dozen official accolades that were sent to the World Bank by different officials.
Mr. Edwin Dean – Assistant Commissioner at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: “I have been most impressed — amazed might be a better word — by Yonas’ accomplishments as coordinator of the ICP global work. It is hard to imagine how anyone could have done a better job.”
Derek Blades, ICP Director for Europe: “Dr. Biru’s co-operation with OECD staff was exemplary and we would be very pleased to collaborate with him on future joint OECD- WB projects. We were initially dubious about his proposal to use ICP for global poverty measurement work. Yonas convinced us that this was important and the end result shows that his judgment was sound.”
Dr. Ifzal Ali, Chief Economist and Vice President, Asian Development Bank – “Mr. Biru’s professionalism, expertise, and diplomacy have been pivotal in influencing Asia’s ICP Regional Advisory Board decisions.”
Ms. Mervat Tallawy – Under-Secretary-General, UN Regional Organization for the Middle East: “Mr. Biru has worked diligently with my senior management and has earned their respect for his commitment, resourcefulness, and professionalism. Mr. Biru has remarkable skills in building and nurturing partnerships. As a result, the project he lad has laid a strong foundation for a strategic partnership between our organization and the World Bank.”
Hubert Escaith – Chief Statistician for the UN Regional Office in Latin America: “My interaction with Mr. Biru dealt with managerial more than technical aspects of the program. These management issues were particularly complex because the Latin American project faced tremendous difficulties in mobilizing resources to finance the planned activities. Mr. Biru was definitely instrumental in securing funds. In the end, Latin America was the first region to deliver the results, thanks to the contribution of all national and international participants.”
Dr. George Alibaruho (Principal Advisor, Office of the Executive Secretary, UN Economic Commission for Africa): “I am personally proud . . . to have had a chance to work with Mr. Biru. . . . He brought enthusiasm, energy and profound experience to all the meetings he attended and chaired. His strategic thinking, organizational skills, and consensus- and partnership- building abilities were invaluable assets in the success of our endeavors at the UN ECA.”
His intellectual leadership is also applauded by World Bank consulting professors. Here are some samples.
Why is the Ethiopian government quiet when the international community is rallying behind Dr. Biru in his fight against the World Bank? We have no answer. A more important question is: Why is Dr. Abiy’s government ignoring several open letters appealing for his intervention? There are four such open letters, including by our group, by a Coalition of 32 Conservative Organizations, and most recently by the Honorable Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a prominent conservative politician.
Our group is a strong supporter of Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Many of us stood for 8 hours in line before we made it inside the DC Convention Center to see him when he came to Washington. We remain strong supporters. But I would be remiss if I did not say we are disappointed by the silence of his government on Dr. Biru’s case. His government’s silence is inconsistent with his public speech in which he said his government is committed to defending the dignity and rights of proud Ethiopians. I cannot think of another more proud and dignified Ethiopian than Dr. Yonas. Here is the link to Dr. ABiy’s promise.
I would like to end my article reiterating the call for justice.
On June 6, 2018, our Group’s published an open letter to Dr. Abiy: “Americans from Senators to Cabinet members, and from religious leaders to iconic civil rights advocates, have stood up for the Ethiopian. Sadly, our government’s silence has been deafening. We believe you have brought a new era for Ethiopians that has given us hope. We urge you respectfully to write to President Trump on behalf of all Ethiopians to express our collective outrage and request his intervention to restore Dr. Biru’s human dignity and rights.”
On June 15, 2018, the co-founder of the Coalition of 32 Conservative Organizations that was formed to fight for Dr. Biru wrote in a published open letter to Dr. Abiy: “The Bank’s inexplicable stance that Dr. Biru’s record is beyond the natural capability of a Black man is an insult to the human race and represents an affront to one billion sub-Saharan Africans both in continental Africa and around the globe.” Speaking on behalf of the 32 conservative groups, she added: “We believe the seriousness of the matter demands a more radical step of involving the African Union.”
On January 27, 2019, Hon. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a prominent conservative politician wrote an open letter to Dr. Abiy, stating: “The purpose of this article is to inform PM Ahmed and Ethiopian citizens that Dr. Biru has gone on a hunger strike since January 12, 2019, in protest of his mistreatment. Dr. Biru has lived in the US for 40 years, but he still holds Ethiopian citizenship. It is extremely rare for someone who has lived in the US legally for 40 years without taking American citizenship. This shows the love he has for his country. It is important that his country stands by him.”
The Honorable concluded his open letter stating: “Apart from seeking the intervention of the African Union and President Trump, PM Ahmed should demand the Board of Governors of the World Bank intervene to redress Dr. Biru for the despicable racial injustice he suffered. Time is of the extreme essence to save Dr. Biru, a father of three children.”
Dr. Biru has made all Ethiopians and people of Ethiopian origin proud. I wrote this article with full confidence that Dr. Abiy will make all of us proud by standing up for Dr. Biru. God bless.