West Complains About Yunus Ouster from Grameen

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/07/2011 12:05:00 AM
[NOTE: This is the second of two posts reflecting on the ouster of Muhammad Yunus from Grameen as demanded by the Bangladeshi government.] Well it's finally happened: the Bangladeshi authorities have forced the removal of microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank. Although Yunus has his critics--witness Jagdish Bhagwati portraying him in a negative light in the post below as being Grameen v Bangladesh--I am still shocked that their government would treat someone of such renown so harshly. Yes, it's like bashing the Dalai Lama or criticizing Aang San Suu Kyi--something which won't go down too well with Western audiences. Once more invoking rather odious comparisons, Yunus' defenders are likening his treatment to the political persecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia--too influential to meddle with electoral politics.

At any rate, the Western backlash has started more quickly than you can say "Moammar." First out of the chute are those diplomatic dervishes, the French (to no one's real surprise). From Auntie:
Both the US and France have lamented the removal of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the Grameen micro-finance bank he founded. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his government will monitor developments and discuss the issue with the Bangladesh in the next few days. The US has warned Professor Yunus's removal could harm bilateral ties.

Meanwhile Bangladesh's Supreme Court has adjourned hearing two last-ditch petitions challenging the removal. Correspondents say neither of the petitions, which will now be heard on 2 May, has much chance of success and that Professor Yunus appears reconciled to leaving his job as managing director of the Grameen Bank.

President Sarkozy expressed his strong support to Professor Yunus in a letter released to the French press by Friends of Grameen, a voluntary organisation established to promote the microcredit activities of the bank and its affiliates. He wrote that the creation of the Grameen Bank "was an audacious initiative, which has been an ongoing source of inspiration for the international community".

"I know the difficulties you are going through at the present moment. I trust the institutions of your country will find a fair resolution to these...The French government will closely monitor the situation and will definitely address the issue with Bangladeshi authorities over the next few days."
As Hillary Clinton had already sided with Yunus instead of the Bangladeshi incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina prior to his ouster, the American response has unsurprisingly been negative as well:
The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake, said on Tuesday said that his country had a "strong interest in maintaining close relations" with Bangladesh, which he called "a democratic and moderate Muslim country". But he told a congressional hearing he had, during a visit last month to Dhaka, "warned that a failure to find a compromise that respects Dr Yunus's global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen could affect our bilateral relations".

On Tuesday the Supreme Court upheld the argument of the Bangladesh central bank that Professor Yunus had been improperly appointed while past retirement age. But Professor Yunus said the attempt to remove him from Grameen Bank had been politically motivated. The Grameen Bank has pioneered micro-lending to the poor by giving small loans to millions of borrowers.

It was in effect Prof Yunus's last legal option to keep his job as managing director of the Grameen Bank. In March Bangladesh's High Court ruled that his dismissal was legal. His supporters say he fell out with Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after trying to launch his own political party in 2007.
The BBC also has another story on the seemingly rapid downfall of Professor Yunus after signalling his intention of entering politics. Very Khodorkovsky-like, I must observe. It's odd but yes, I'll probably side with Missus Clinton in giving the microfinance pioneer the benefit of a doubt here.

At any rate, it is no longer unimaginable that the US will apply sanctions against poor Bangladesh over this incident (as if it needed more troubles aide from political instability and chronic flooding among others). Think of China being ostracised for the longest time, or Myanmar up to the present. Given that the US has provided Bangladesh with $5 billion in aid since it became a nation on one hand and that Bangladesh owns 25% of Grameen on the other, it's an interesting tug-of-war:
The U.S. has provided more than $5 billion of development assistance since 1971 to Bangladesh, according to U.S. government data...Bangladesh’s government owns 25 percent of Grameen, Yunus said, while customers hold the balance. The bank has lent $10.3 billion since it began operations in 1976 and had a loan recovery rate of 97 percent as of the end of February, according to the lender’s website.
It's depressing news, but don't shoot the messenger. For all his foibles, it makes you appreciate the tightrope industrialist-politician Silvio Berlusconi has navigated for years and years when canny operators like Yunus stumble at the first hurdle.