World Bank and IMF should make reparations and decolonise, says watchdog

The IMF and the World Bank should make efforts to understand their legacy and take responsibility for both historic harm and enduring injustice, concludes a recent report from the The Bretton Woods Project, a UK-based watchdog dedicated to challenging the tactics and impacts of the two institutions.

Setting out the deleterious impacts of unjust, racist and punitive approaches to the financing of countries’ development programmes, particularly in the Global South, the report calls for steps to be taken towards acknowledging, dismantling and reshaping the structures of our world, and states explicitly that this must entail the IMF and the World Bank decolonising their approach.

By framing racism in terms of its current and most obvious manifestations, rather than through a recognition of the wider historical context, these institutions ignore the link between colonialism and the development trajectory, says the report. As a result, it states, the IMF and the World Bank have contributed to structural economic dependency by means of resource extraction and debt manufacture, and this has impeded the industrialisation, diversification and progress towards political independence of many countries.

The report makes the case for debt repudiation — which challenges the legality of debts owed by the Global South to the Global North — and truth and reconciliation processes. Both of these are part of the ‘reparations tradition’ — a pan-African derived movement for the liberation and realisation of rights of the oppressed across the world.

Decolonisation is one approach within the reparations tradition. The Bretton Woods Project proposes that there is a growing case for rejecting all institutions that came out of colonialism and creating alternative governance and regulatory spaces. Its report makes a number of recommendations for such restructuring, which are levelled at the IMF and the World Bank, and can be found here.

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