An ill
Illustration by Hunter French

Workers Say Patrons Ignored Nonprofit Leader's 'Culture of Fear' for Years

Complaints against a Jeffrey Sachs protege in East Africa, employees said, were ignored for almost a decade. The end of poverty, it turns out, requires a lot more due diligence.
December 21, 2020, 5:49pm

Jeffrey Sachs spent years encouraging international organizations around the world to invest in local leadership; the insistence was part of a philosophy that made him one of the world’s leading development economists, and certainly the most famous. For his own organizations to succeed, Sachs knew, he would have to practice what he preached. Then came Belay Begashaw. 

Begashaw arrived at Columbia University in 2009. It was a coup to have him on board: Begashaw, who said he was a former Minister of Agriculture in Ethiopia (he wasn't exactly, as it turned out), had decades of experience working in grassroots development and he rose quickly, with Sachs’s blessing. At the beginning of his tenure, Begashaw served as a senior agriculture policy specialist at Columbia’s Earth Institute, then directed by Sachs, before his promotion to director of the Millennium Development Goals Center for Eastern and Southern Africa in Nairobi, where he worked with Columbia and the UN on the Millennium Villages Project. In Nairobi, Begashaw was also the founding director of the Columbia Global Centers for Africa, and was on the leadership council for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. 

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Begashaw moved to Rwanda in 2016, where he was named director general of the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa, or SDGCA, an organization dedicated to bringing together “governments, civil society, businesses, and academic institutions” to support African-led initiatives and the global Sustainable Development Goals. The center, which would come to have a budget of millions of dollars and a board of directors that featured numerous African presidents and world-renowned philanthropists, had been proposed by the Sachs-led Sustainable Development Solutions Network. 

But after this meteoric rise, Begashaw’s fall from grace was far less swift. While Begashaw was lauded in the development world, behind the scenes, his employees decried abusive behaviors and mismanagement that they say poisoned the entire organization. As VICE World News previously reported, Begashaw was put on leave in July as the organization investigated accusations of harassment, discrimination, anti-Semitism, and mismanagement staffers had levied against him. It had been over a year since the claims had been originally made; in June 2019, two members of the board of directors, including Sachs, were sent a memo written by Ashley Hufft, the organization’s former general counsel, and signed by eight other staff members at the center detailing Begashaw’s behavior. Last month, on November 11, the SDGCA announced on Twitter that Begashaw would retire from his role as director-general at the SDGCA by the end of the month. (Begashaw has not responded to repeated requests for comment sent to email addresses known to be his from VICE World News.) 

Former employees told VICE World News that complaints about Begashaw have been made to upper management, and Sachs, for almost 10 years.

But this wasn’t the first time Begashaw was accused of misconduct by employees, nor was it new that employees said they went to leadership for help. In fact, former employees told VICE World News that complaints about Begashaw have been made to upper management, and Sachs, for almost 10 years. Even after the investigation into Begashaw finally began in Rwanda, former employees said, investigators at the auditing firm KPMG were not thorough, and not independent enough from the organization itself. Begashaw’s story, and that of the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa, is not just one of alleged misconduct and mismanagement. It’s about how would-be do-gooders may have failed to do their due diligence, and ignored the whistleblowers along the way. 

Shortly after becoming the director of the Millennium Development Goals Center for Eastern and Southern Africa in Nairobi, an employee said, Belay Begashaw quite literally wanted the largest desk in the office. It was 2009, and he had recently met his new subordinates. CJ Jones, a former high-level employee for the center, remembered it well: “One day he came down to my office, and asked where I got my desk. I said it was in my office when I moved in, I didn’t know. [Begashaw] then sent his assistant to measure my desk, because my desk was bigger than his.” Then, she remembered, he bought an even bigger one. From there, Jones said, “it went downhill.” 

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At one point, his office was on the highest floor of the building, and shared the hallway with only one other employee—George Sempeho, a former colleague of Begashaw’s both in Nairobi and later on in Kigali, who had worked with Sachs for years on different aspects of the Millennium Villages Project. “People were afraid to come up there,” Sempeho told VICE World News about listening on their floor as Begashaw regularly berated staff. “He was a bully.”

Jones witnessed the same thing. “I saw staff constantly shouted at and belittled,” she said. “We were made to feel like little players in the board game of Belay’s life.” Jones said he abused his power frequently, and would even ask the Kenyan security guards (who were not employed by the center, but by the building’s management) to leave and get him lunch. “He would threaten them and bully them and scream at them until they did that,” she added. 

“We were made to feel like little players in the board game of Belay’s life.”

Begashaw had little to prove: He had earned his bachelor’s degree at Addis Ababa University, and later an MPA from the Kennedy School at Harvard University and a phD from Texas A&M in agricultural policy. At some point during his career, Begashaw had changed his working name from “Belay Ejigu” to “Belay Begashaw.” He also hadn't actually been the Minister of Agriculture, but rather, briefly, an acting minister. It was, nevertheless, an impressive resume.

In many ways, Begashaw served as the performative window dressing for Sachs’s seemingly well-intentioned philosophies about local leadership. These philosophies, of course, were frequently successful: On the other side of the continent, former employees said, Amadou Niang, the director of the Millennium Development Goals Center for West and Central Africa, was an excellent leader and collaborator. But Sach’s uncritical support for Begashaw in the name of local leadership in East Africa directly impacted local staff members on the ground. According to former employees, Begashaw, as he would be accused of doing years later in Rwanda, treated African staff worse than white international colleagues. “He said they were stupid, and didn’t know what they were doing,” Jones said. “It was stunning, the depth, the level of abuse.” It was also particularly difficult, Jones said, because it was hard for these staff members to quit and leave a high-paying job. “So they stay and they accept what is given to them. And that was exploited.” 

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One African colleague, who wished to remain anonymous as she fears retribution, told VICE World News that Begashaw was “rough and mean” with subordinates. “As an African,” she said, “if I challenged him, he would fire me.” In one incident, she said, “A Kenyan colleague questioned [Begashaw] in a small meeting, and he got very angry and started banging on the table and screaming. [The employee] walked out of the meeting, and then the next moment got a letter of termination that said we didn’t have any more money for his role. Then someone was hired for the position the following day.” Lina Henao, a former employee in both Nairobi and Kigali remembered the incident: “Belay picked on him, and he was fired,” she said. 

Outside of Nairobi, Begashaw’s poor communication with staff in New York was frequently questioned, while a complex management structure and a commitment to uplifting local leadership made it difficult to hold Begashaw accountable. A former colleague from Columbia, who wished to remain anonymous due to fears of retribution, told VICE World News that it was pretty clear Begashaw’s team in Nairobi “had no clear direction,” and knew of Begashaw as “flakey” and untrustworthy. (When asked about their relationship with Begashaw, Columbia University’s office of communications and public affairs declined to comment.) 

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In one instance late during Begashaw’s time in Nairobi, the anonymous employee said, colleagues in New York were “nervous” about an agreement between the Ethiopian government and the Columbia Global Center for a big project on mini grids (or village-level electrical grids) that would have been worth $30 million; the project involved collaborating with Begashaw. Everyone wanted, he said, “to make sure the agreement was iron-clad to protect Columbia from Belay.” The project, he added, didn’t go anywhere, and was later supposed to be taken on by the SDGCA in Rwanda. But nothing happened there either. “That was very normal for Belay,” Henao said. “He would have projects and they just wouldn’t happen.”

Former employees like Jones said that—again as he would later be accused of doing in Rwanda—Begashaw would make up numbers for reports and various projects the center was operating, even with possible funders. Certain funds would also not be used for the original intended purpose. “Belay didn't use the funds that he was given for projects on the projects they were assigned to … happened all the time,” recalled Jones. “I would think that I had $200,000 to spend, and he would tell me, ‘No, you've only got $20,000.’” 

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“It was frustrating to work with Belay, he was temperamental,” said John Hubers, who worked closely with Sachs and Begashaw as the director of operations for Millennium Promise, the fundraising and operations arm of the Millennium Village Project. “I don’t know if he was insecure, or what the issues were, but he needed very much to express power to anybody and everybody.”

Hufft, who later became general counsel of the SDGCA in Rwanda, was in New York working first as general counsel and chief of staff at Millennium Promise, before becoming managing director in 2012. She worked directly with Begashaw, and said their work was “fraught with so much conflict. And at the heart of a lot of this conflict was Belay Begashaw.”

When Hubers and his colleagues in New York would ask Begashaw for more information on the projects in Nairobi, Hubers said, Begashaw would rarely share details or accurate reporting. “The information we were getting back often turned out to be sometimes entirely made up, or mostly just stretched to the very maximum,” Hubers said. “It was very hard for us to report back to donors … we were constantly losing donors or trying to find donors.” 

Like in Rwanda, Begashaw’s behavior in Nairobi was an open secret.

“He was a stop gap of getting information,” Hufft said. “Of being able to communicate with teams or implement programming.” As the years passed by, communication deteriorated further. When Hubers or another staff member would find out about some inconsistency in the budget or reporting, and ask Begashaw to address it, he never did. “I don’t know where the money went,” Hubers said. “In one case a team leader for a project in [Uganda] had money disappearing, product disappearing, donations disappearing like crazy from his site. An entire warehouse of grain missing. Begashaw said he would investigate it, but we never got any real answers on what happened there.” 

Like in Rwanda, Begashaw’s behavior in Nairobi was an open secret. Jones herself said she reported Begashaw’s behavior to upper management, and spent many hours consoling colleagues he bullied. “We took it up many many, many times. We always got told to go away,” Jones said. “They knew when he was in Nairobi that he was like this and no one did anything to him.” 

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Sachs, Jones said, knew. “I can tell you categorically that Jeff [Sachs] knew. Jeff knew what Belay was like from the Nairobi days,” she said. “He knew Belay didn’t treat his staff well, he knew Belay was not applying all of the funds to the right sources. He knew. The Millennium office in New York knew, and why they didn’t act? None of us knew.” (Sachs has not responded to repeated requests via both phone and email for comment from VICE World News. After picking up the first phone call, Sachs said hello but subsequently hung up after hearing that he was on the phone with a VICE reporter. The next two calls were sent straight to voicemail.) 

“I know [Begashaw] had conflicts with many people on the project, many people who tried to work around it or left or got pushed aside,” said Hufft. “At the end of the day it was very difficult to stand up to Belay because you couldn’t win.” Hufft herself recalled conflict and disagreements with Begashaw at that time, to the point that she “became nauseous” every time his number came up on her phone. 

“Everybody was telling him the same thing. That Belay was a problem from day one.”

According to Hubers, “Jeff either never responded [to complaints about Begashaw], or said he would look into it and then didn’t. There were some people that I know who left very unhappily from the Nairobi office, and made it abundantly clear to anybody who would listen, Jeff and other board members, that there was a problem here, and it just got ignored. Jeff is a contentious person, but he hates confrontation.” More than once, Hubers added, he told Sachs what was going on: “We had many conversations,” he said. “Everybody was telling him the same thing. That Belay was a problem from day one.”

Jeffrey Sachs speaks to an audience.

Former employees say that Jeffrey Sachs knew about Belay Begashaw's behavior for almost a decade. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Begashaw’s misconduct was such a poorly-kept secret that Jones and several other employees individually told VICE World News that they used to joke that Begashaw must be holding something over Sachs. “There was something in the puzzle that didn’t make sense,” said Henao, who remembered these conversations well. 

“It was a joke. It seemed impossible that somebody who was so immoral could just keep getting promoted,” Jones said. “Didn't Jeff see that this many smart people couldn't be wrong? Because there were lots of very, very smart people.”

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After the Millennium Villages Project slowly came to an end in 2015, the newly-founded Sustainable Development Goals Center in Africa hired Begashaw to serve as director general in Rwanda. Sachs’s relationship with the SDGCA was tight-knit from the beginning, as he was the lone signatory of the center’s host country agreement with Rwanda on behalf of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network; he still serves as a board member. 

“Belay was pegged for this position before the center was even formed,” said Hufft. “It is my strong belief that there was no search process for him and no real discussion of alternatives.” A background document for a Sustainable Development Solutions Network meeting in 2015 about the proposed SDGCA also lists Begashaw, and no one else, as a possible director: “Dr. Belay Begashaw, of the Earth Institute and SDSN Leadership Council, is proposed to become the first director, following his leadership and experience as Director of the MDG Center for East and Southern Africa (of the Earth Institute) during the past 8 years.” 

During Begashaw’s move, he spoke with Hubers and other former colleagues about working together again. “I couldn’t imagine doing that, being with him and under him full-time,” Hubers said. But Hufft said yes, and moved her family to Kigali in 2017. 

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By the time he arrived in Rwanda, Begashaw was already known, former employees said, as someone to watch out for. “I was wary of working for him,” Hufft said, “But took a chance because I was passionate about the sustainable development goals, and a great team was being assembled with a world-class board of directors.” The board in question featured African presidents, global philanthropists, and renowned business leaders. Upon arrival, Hufft said, Begashaw was “very careful to keep me in a box.” Although she was the general counsel of the SDGCA, Begashaw continually siloed Hufft. She wasn’t allowed to participate in board meetings, which was strange for someone in her position. Instead, she said, “Begashaw controlled information. That was power to him.”

Soon, it became clear that the situation in Rwanda was quickly deteriorating. As detailed in VICE World News’s previous report and in Hufft’s memo about the SDGCA, employees claimed “Begashaw belittled colleagues, harassed young female staff members, misused funds, lied about the center’s progress to donors, and spoke with disdain about Rwandans, Jews, and other groups of people.”

A former employee in Rwanda, who wished to remain anonymous due to fears of retribution, said that he recalled being treated better than many other members of the team, and he believed it was because he was American and white. “It was pretty common knowledge that he would, not only sexually harass, but treat certain employees very poorly,” he said. “Especially if he thought he had more power over them.”

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Sempeho recalled many instances of watching as staff members were spoken down to, from private organization meetings to interactions with funders. There, Sempeho said, Begashaw referred to them as inferior. “We were not small boys or girls,” he said, “we were specialists in different fields, from monitoring and evaluation to gender.” 

Employees said he mistreated consultants as well. Grieve Chelwa was hired in 2017 to work on a report about revamping higher education in Africa, and in an interview with VICE World News said that Begashaw “mentally abused” him during his few months of work. According to Chelwa, Begashaw wanted him to cut corners on his report, and threatened him when Chelwa refused. “He was a proper bully,” said Chelwa, a senior lecturer in economics at the graduate school of business at the University of Cape Town. “Speaking with employees there, it didn’t seem that he created an environment to thrive. That whole experience left me scarred for a while, and left me second guessing myself.”  

After a year at the center, Hufft realized that Begashaw had created “a culture of fear and abuse.”

As detailed in Hufft’s memo, there were also many questions about Begashaw’s accounting and financial reporting. (For example, as documented in VICE World News’s previous reporting, the memo alleged that Begashaw pocketed “private school subsidies for his children of $25,000 and $26,500 in, respectively, 2017 and 2018, even though they attended public school in New Jersey … In one instance, it states that a $50,000 grant to the center from U.N. Women was never used for the intended project, and instead, 'many of the activities falsely represented as having been achieved or as being ongoing in the September 2018 Board documents are, to this date, still not occurring.'”) According to Sempeho, Begashaw “cooked the numbers,” while “squandering different opportunities,” and would force staff to write editorials and academic articles before publishing them under his name and not sharing credit. “He wanted to appear as if he was the brain behind everything, which was wrong,” Sempeho said. “I don’t want to use the word dictator,” he added, “but maybe it fits the bill. It was big man syndrome.” 

Eventually, after a year at the center, Hufft realized that Begashaw had created “a culture of fear and abuse.” She recalled watching many donors and employees walk away, as bullying and rampant misogyny became worse. “My perception was he viewed himself as becoming more and more untouchable,” she said. As VICE World News previously reported, employees said that complaints about Begashaw had already been made to Sachs. “I think it’s outrageous that someone like Sachs, who heard so much terrible feedback about this guy, didn’t do anything,” said Henao. “There were so many red flags on the road, and this road was 10 years long. And he ignored all of them.” 

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Hufft felt similarly. “I know that Jeff had heard from many people throughout the years, including departing staff of the SDG Center, the issues surrounding Belay,” wrote Hufft in an August email about the investigation. But she still hoped to protect the reputation of the center, and have the board hold Begashaw accountable. It took Hufft a while to put together the memo; she spent months triple-checking every fact, figure, and quote. Because, according to Hufft, the organization didn’t have a whistleblowing structure beyond Begashaw, and board chairs Aliko Dangote and Rwandan president Paul Kagame were such important public officials, it was difficult at first for Hufft to find a way to get the memo into their hands. So when Hufft first sent the memo to Sachs and Zouera Youssoufou, the CEO of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, in June 2019, she expected they would be able to find a way forward. She had already briefly discussed the situation at the center with Youssoufou at a conference days before, and Hufft said that Youssoufou had touched her arm, told her they should have done more due diligence, and said, “I’ve got your back. Don’t worry, you can trust me.” (In an email to VICE World News, Youssoufou wrote, “Ashley Hufft is a whistleblower and the SDGCA board appreciated her coming forward.”) Sachs, Hufft said, had also seemed ready to listen.

When Hufft pressed him, and said she expected an investigation, she said Sachs told her “I know,” but then asked why she didn’t “just leave the center.”

“How wrong I got it,” Hufft told VICE World News. “I misjudged people I thought would do the right thing. I did the hard part by writing and delivering the memo, I thought them acting on it would be a foregone conclusion. They actually had a fiduciary responsibility to do so.” Instead, in September, Hufft said, she found out on a call with Sachs that he hadn’t discussed the memo with Youssoufou. When Hufft pressed him, and said she expected an investigation, she said Sachs told her “I know,” but then asked why she didn’t “just leave the center.” To which she said, “Why do I have to leave the center?” 

Kigali, Rwanda's skyline.

The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa is located in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo by Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Weeks later, Hufft was fired by Begashaw in November and lost her visa; she had to leave Rwanda in January. Begashaw didn’t give her a reason for her dismissal other than the fact she was “too expensive,” but Hufft is sure that someone told him about the memo. “I don’t know exactly how,” she said, “but it got to Belay.” She has no doubt that she was terminated by Begashaw in retaliation. While Sachs has not responded to repeated requests for comment from VICE World News for this article, in a comment for the previous article on the SDGCA and why the investigation took so long, he wrote in an email,

“As soon as the complaint came in, which I took and take very seriously, I suggested to Ms. Ashley Hufft that she contact the co-chairs of the Board, as I am one of twenty or so Board members and was not and am not engaged in day-to-day operations or supervision of the center in any manner … I did not hear back from Ashley Hufft again during 2019 on any single occasion as far as I recall. She did not request any further action on my part nor did she inform me in any manner that matters were not proceeding.  In fact, the next I heard about this, I believe, was in February 2020 when I learned that Ashley had been dismissed by Dr. Begashaw in the Fall of 2019 and was no longer in Rwanda.  I immediately called the representative of the Co-Chair [Youssoufou], who explained to me indeed that as the representative of the Co-Chair that there had been no follow-up action and that she had not tried to reach out to me.  I advised her how important it was to proceed, and how sorry I was that the follow-up had been so much delayed…I urged the co-chairs to hire an outside firm as soon as possible, and the Government of Rwanda confirmed that they would proceed in this manner.  With the Covid-19 disruptions, this took many weeks, probably two months from April to June or thereabouts to make arrangements.”

Nevertheless, Hufft still wanted an investigation. After waiting months, Hufft sent another email to Sachs with the memo, copying other members of the board in February 2020. She received quick responses, and an email from Sachs that read, “Thank you for this letter and comprehensive update. The situation absolutely requires an investigation … This matter should not rest until there is appropriate follow up and I will do my part to ensure that occurs.” A few days later, Hufft received an email from Sachs’s wife Sonia, who wrote, “I just found out the full extent of the malfeasances and also your abrupt and injurious termination. I worry about your and [Hufft’s son’s] wellbeing and want to know how I can help. When you have time please call. Of course Jeff also wants to talk to you and has written you a request to call.” (Sonia Sachs has not responded to repeated requests for comment via email from VICE World News.) 

In July, a year after the memo was first sent to Sachs and Youssoufou, the investigation began and Begashaw was suspended; his suspension was announced to employees at the SDGCA in an email signed by Sachs and Youssoufou. “These are sophisticated, smart people,” Hufft said, lamenting the board’s delays. “They know what to do with a whistleblowing memo.”

Letter from Sachs and Youssoufou

Once the investigation finally began, it was not without hiccups. Former employees of the center told VICE World News that they themselves were told by acting SDGCA director Caroline Makasa to reach out to the auditing firm KPMG to arrange interviews, and that once they were on these calls, the interviewers didn’t always seem to be taking continuous notes and forgot details of their testimony frequently. “KPMG asked that current and former employees be made aware of the investigation and provided with KPMG's contact details to ensure unmediated contact. KPMG also reached out directly to all current and former employees,” said Makasa in an email to VICE World News. 

Email from Caroline Makasa

“The investigation was not properly done, and you could see the team was super inexperienced. My interactions with them were frustrating,” said Henao. “They didn’t know how to conduct an interview. They were not taking notes, and at the end of the conversation, the person from the team sent me a [similar] list of questions. I was like ‘What? We just had an interview! You were the one who was supposed to write the notes!” 

“The investigation was not properly done, and you could see the team was super inexperienced.”

In some cases, former employees said they only received email questionnaires and no follow-up calls. One former employee who wished to remain anonymous due to fears of retribution was asked just one question after years of working with Begashaw. 

“I know KPMG is a fantastic auditing firm,” Hufft said. “But this particular KPMG office should not have led the investigation in my view.” KPMG in Rwanda was the center’s external auditor before the investigation, and as the auditor they never approached Hufft with questions during her time as general counsel. “That’s highly unusual,” Hufft added. 

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Many of the former employees also doubted that the investigation would remain confidential, as it seemed like, according to Hufft and other employees, certain members of the center were friendly with the auditors. In an email from Hufft to Sachs, Youssoufou, and other board members on July 30, 2020, Hufft wrote about the slow process of the investigation, and the fact that she and the other whistleblowers that signed the memo had yet to be contacted by KPMG, in addition to the fact that while KPMG had audited the center before, they never raised concerns (many of which were detailed in Hufft’s memo) to the board. Hufft also raised issues on the independence and thoroughness of the investigation. (KPMG did not reply to repeated requests for comment, and their global office told VICE World News that they were unable to provide a comment until they heard from their Rwanda outpost.)

In response to her letter, Sachs replied to Hufft and other members of the board denying culpability. “I would like to make clear from the start that I am not leading or guiding this process, and have felt and expressed to Ashley from the very start that I cannot do so from afar as a single board member without the authority, responsibility, or institutional capacity to carry out the very important and requisite investigation,” he wrote. “On every occasion that anyone involved in this process has contacted me, I have urged an urgent, prompt, and thorough independent investigation under the auspice of the Board.” Still, the process was stalled for over a year. Other former leaders at Millennium Promise, from when Begashaw was in Nairobi, have denied culpability and tried to distance themselves as well. In an email to VICE World News, Jeffrey Walker, a former board chair of Millennium Promise, said he didn’t “know Belay.” (At the very least, they were both present at Millennium Promise’s partner meeting in New York in September 2010.)

Email from Jeffrey Sachs

With regards to KPMG’s investigation and Hufft’s email, Youssoufou wrote, “Just to clarify, Minister of Justice of Rwanda recommended KPMG which I had no problem with...clearly I also didn't know anything about them being the current SDG Center auditors...We have already signed with them - don't see changing them now...what I will ask them to do is make the info gathering discreet and confidential.” In an email to VICE World News, Youssoufou said, “However long the process took, the result was thorough and professional, and SDGCA has now started a new chapter.” Makasa, in a separate email, said, “I have no comment to make on the investigation. Our focus as staff is to fulfill the important mission of SDGCA and we enjoy the full support of the board in that regard.” 

Email from Zoeura Youssoufou

Hufft was finally interviewed in August, over a month after the investigation began. Hufft said that during their multi-hour meeting, the auditors listened, but asked few questions. Hufft implored them, she said, to reach out directly to multiple former employees as well, instead of passively waiting for them to contact KPMG. She also encouraged them to reach out to her with further questions or if they had trouble contacting people. 

Hufft heard little back, until the tweet from the SDCGA went up in November: “The Board of the SDGs Center for Africa (SDGC/A) announced today that Dr. Belay Begashaw will retire as Director-General, effective 30 November 2020, and thanked him for his service.”

That was it. Years of alleged abuse and months of investigations later, the center quietly announced Begashaw’s removal. “While I’m pleased to hear about the change in leadership and the SDG center can become what it is supposed to be, I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a bolder statement on what happened and the continued need for improvement in gender equality and treatment of women in the workplace,” Hufft said. “What is astonishing to me is that they thanked him for his service, given everything that everybody went through at that organization under him. And he gets thanked.” 

“There needs to be a public report,” said Chelwa, in order to actually hold Begashaw, and the organization’s leadership that enabled him, accountable. “This is, essentially, a story of development work in Africa. Jeff Sachs passed his sell-by date.” Henao agreed: “I think it’s only fair to know the results of the investigation,” she said. 

Now, according to former employees, with little leadership from the board, not enough cash, and a besmirched history, the SDGCA is a shell of what was initially intended. The results of the investigation have not been shared with former employees, and remnants of Begashaw’s tenure have been scrubbed. Only the halls of the center in Kigali, where numerous framed photographs of Begashaw meeting with world leaders decorate the office, still bear his image. “As for the walls,” said Makasa in an email, “I haven’t given much thought to interior decoration.” But elsewhere, Begashaw’s picture and profile were quietly removed from the SDGCA website, and he isn’t even included on the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s emeritus members page, even though he was once listed as a council member. 

It is as if the last 10 years never happened at all. 

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