Friday, May 13, 2011

Muhammad Yunus : The Time Has Come To Act

"They said they would kill me if I don't call off the protests. They beat me with sticks. I begged for my life. They broke my hands and left me in a field." These are the words of Sagir Rashid Chowdhury, the chairman of the Employee Association of Grameen Bank , who last week was brutally beaten at the hands of thugs for supporting Professor Yunus and the work of Grameen in Bangladesh. Since I last wrote on the subject , there has been an escalation in the Bangladeshi government’s resolve to rubbish and ruin Yunus and his supporters, intended to pave the way for the government’s take-over of Grameen, which various sources say is now underway. At the same time and with similar resolve, support for Yunus, known as "the banker of the poor", has become unstoppable, with 3.7 million people now having signed a petition; Mary Robinson leading Friends of Grameen with a powerful international coalition of supporters; and the French and American governments speaking up for Yunus at the highest levels. Privately, the UK government has also said it is sympathetic. One might expect such an outpouring of support for a Nobel Laureate, but the intransigence on the part of the Bangladeshi government is perhaps more surprising. The stand-off stems from two events, one in 2006 , the other in 2007 , that upset the Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. The first was that Yunus, not Hasina, received the Nobel Prize; the second, that Yunus was pushed to consider setting up a political party to challenge corruption in Bangladesh. Apparently Hasina has not forgiven Yunus and more recently she has called Yunus an "enemy of the country". Hasina’s bid to remove Yunus from Grameen started with the forced appointment of a new chair of Grameen whose first task was to sack Yunus on spurious grounds of age (he is 70). Yunus went to court to overturn the decision and then to appeal, and in both cases he lost. For a country at the top of the list of the most corrupt, it is perhaps unsurprising that the legal system kowtowed to the ruling party and that sinister forces on the ground have been allowed, even encouraged, to intimidate Grameen supporters since then. The government’s motives are clear and their methods are blatantly transparent, but of course only to those that know. For others, seeds of doubt circulate when accusations are made, legal cases are presented and stories about unscrupulous micro-credit lenders circulate. Mud sticks and some people less noble or less knowledgeable start to believe that there must be some truth in what is said. And perhaps most disheartening is that however effective the domestic and international opposition to the Bangladeshi government has been, it has been able to carry on regardless.