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Yunus martyred, Bangladesh marred


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The personification of climate change, unimaginable poverty and simmering religious extremism; Bangladesh doesn’t really have much going for it. And now we have even less. The Supreme Court’s decision to back the Central Bank’s dismissal of Grameen Bank Managing Director Mohammad Yunus, the pioneer of highly-controversial microcredit, has stunned civil society in Bangladesh and potentially done the country more harm them good.

The Nobel Laureate was unceremoniously relieved of his duties last month with a letter from the Central Bank (on request from the Ministry of Finance) citing a breach of contract. The septuagenarian, self-proclaimed “banker to the poor” was kicked out for being 10 years past the required age of retirement, 60, civil servants said. Internationally, the government’s actions have been frowned upon and seen as arbitrary and capricious – an embodiment of governance in today’s Bangladesh.

Yunus first came under attack late last year after a Danish documentary accused him of embezzling Norweigen government aid money. Oslo later cleared Yunus and Grameen Bank of any financial impropriety, but the damage had been done. The Bangladesh media lashed out and the government pounced to remove the man they linked closely with the interim (military-backed) government of 2007, which arrested the current Prime Minister on allegations of extortion. Yunus further exacerbated the situation by forming his own political party. His campaign failed; the gloves came off. The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who in 2009 brought her arch-rival Khaleda Zia to tears on national television, was now after Yunus’s neck. In 2010 she publicly proclaimed him as “blood-sucker of the poor.

However, Mohammad Yunus we have to understand is more than just a managing director of a bank. He is, and I fear I am stating the obvious, MOHAMMAD YUNUS, a Bengali and a Muslim, who until now was the only squeaky clean ambassador of the nation. His high-profile removal from office (for which he must partly share the blame) has done more to tarnish the image of Bangladesh than the 2005 serial bomb attacks or the countrywide protests against women’s inheritance rights earlier this week by religious extremists. Similarly, microcredit is more than just a service that provides small loans to the poor. It’s an idea, home grown, to help deal with one of society’s biggest challenges, rural poverty. It is as quintessentially Bangladeshi as cucumber sandwiches and industrialisation were British, and we ought to be proud of it. Today, we stand to lose all that.

As a sombre Grameen Bank recovers from the shock of losing its public face, others in the microfinance industry wait nervously to see the impact the Central Bank’s order will have on foreign aid flow into Bangladesh. Last month, the World Bank froze over $500 million of funding because of concerns over governance. Microfinance institutions too will no doubt come under tougher scrutiny. Time to reflect on the last 20 years of exponential growth though is perhaps just what the industry needs. Bangladesh microfinance has a long, hard battle ahead to make sure it doesn’t fall victim to mission drift as has been the case in India and Mexico where privatisation has capitalised on the helplessness of the poor.

Whilst the national media and the government attacked Yunus’s integrity and legitimacy, the international press now took a swing at microcredit itself.  From the start, microcredit was hugely misunderstood as a concept. It was never meant to be a panacea to alleviate poverty. It was part of a multi-faceted approach and as such, it worked. However, when the money came rolling in from donors, nobody checked the expansion of the industry. Microcredit stole the limelight and bullied other equally important development issues off the agenda and became the lone silver bullet in the hunt to end poverty. When that bullet missed its mark, the onslaught began from all quarters. The government, instead of protecting the country’s most well respected celebrity, only dug its knife in deeper.

Yunus’s response to the controversy that has surrounded him since the Danish documentary, Caught in Microcredit, has been calm and measured. His uncharacteristic silence and humility over the last few months has risen above the belligerence of a government that practises bulldozer politics, and not diplomacy. Consequently, most hope that Yunus will clear his name and gracefully step down from office, allowing fresh thinkers to mould the future. The question now is whether the 65-year-old Prime Minister will follow in his footsteps.

Misha Hussain is a British journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

Aftab S. Alam Apr 06, 2011 12:13pm
Misha, you are less than pleased to see Mr Yunus go and that you would lik to see him continue is petty clear. However, if the rules say he ought to go for reasons stipulated and aply for all then he must ---- why do you wish to be selective in justice here? Citng Mr Yunus' religion etc. is out of place --- tell me you wish to kick up some kinda conspiracy theory here. Come on, give us a break ---- if the man is a Bangladeshi and a Muslim then it's Bangladeshi laws and their Supreme Court and their Media which, together, feel that the man must retire now as the rules say.
md Apr 06, 2011 02:32pm
If this men is well wisher of Bangladeshi people then he should have established a system that ensures that the bank he started runs without him. He surely won't be here forever but the system will remain, if it is right one. If he wants his authority all the time then he is no better than a dictator... You need to understand the difference between Nelson Mandela and Qadhafi.
farid Apr 06, 2011 11:32pm
Dr.younus went to court -- he lost--he should go. He is not above law--
Raoshan Chowdhury Apr 07, 2011 06:34am
This report is informed by the reporter's prejudice, not by objectivity. Very sad.
Syed Rizvi Apr 07, 2011 08:29am
This removal of him doesn't take away any credit of his brilliance and what he contributed to the poor families. As a visionary leader he should have prepared leadership which could follow his mission and/or improve this idea for better results. Generally professional jealousy is always there and ready to do its magic and unfortunately West never likes any brilliance or innovative idea which should evolve from the Muslims countries whether its Grameen or its BCCI !! They have their own agenda and they hire our political leaders and journalists to their job as per their designs.
Muhammad Aftab Apr 07, 2011 09:20am
In third world countries institutions are not so strong and totally personality based. Although these personalities are worth admirable and should be for their achievements for the nation but these guys are reluctant to leave good predecessors who are actually propagators of their agenda. But whatever the management philosophies say, It take centuries to developing countries to have persons of caliber like Muhammad Younus. These are life long assets and only sources of belief in countries like Bangladesh to the rest of the world. These guys have good opportunities in developed world but they prefer to serve their home countries. Whatever the system of government is, it should in its first priority eradicate the corrupt officials who are more dangerous to the system.
Tania Apr 07, 2011 09:54am
how come rules only apply to certain people who have no political influence?
tania Apr 07, 2011 09:57am
It is unfortunate that petty politics comes before anything else in south asia, and how us south asians love seeing someone fall from grace (because of course it only makes us feel better about ourselves).
Mirza Imran Ahsan Ka Apr 07, 2011 11:58am
I agree, he should not have been removed unceremoniously. Government should have negotiated a settlement where his knowledge could still be used. He is an undeclared Bangladeshi ambassador. The government has committed grave mistake.
anwer Apr 07, 2011 03:24pm
In countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where dirty politics is supreme, noble people will never be allowed to stand tall.
samyak gowda Apr 07, 2011 04:08pm
Thanks for this blog. I never knew the real reasons behind his removal. Now, I do.
moise Apr 07, 2011 04:28pm
It is highly likely pressure to remove him came from some place else. Elite rather see people die instead of coming out of poverty.
Fahim Apr 07, 2011 04:46pm
I think Govt could be solved this problem better way...but they failed to solve this problem...govt may give him opportunity to leave his position honorably....
md Apr 07, 2011 05:10pm
Another conspiracy theory my friend... you may not be aware that it is American and French who are putting pressure on Bangladesh govt to keep him... any way you are contradicting your own earlier statements. He failed to develop leadership to continue what West has to do with that.
Najam Apr 07, 2011 10:01pm
Please change the title. I almost shivered reading the title. you don't need to attract readers with the title.
Md. Yusuf Apr 07, 2011 10:19pm
You are right Alam, why does the reporter have to mention his religion???
Faisal Apr 08, 2011 12:05pm
This is a blessing in disguise. Man is mortal and so is Younas. While being away from the bank, he can guide the new managements how to run the bank, even when he is not around. Moreover, a visionary like him can continue to serve the nation by taking up some other issues.
naveed nawaz Apr 08, 2011 12:50pm
what i assume is that when a man attains a high moral grounds and somthing extraordinary in any particular field then he must leave the stage ahead of being blamed by people due to long existence.