Beyond Yunus

There is concern that the exit of Mohammed Yunus as Grameen Bank’s managing director will severely undermine the micro-credit movement in Bangladesh. With the Bangladesh supreme court upholding the government’s decision to sack Yunus, it is the end of the legal road for the Nobel laureate to seek redress. Yunus has been synonymous with the micro-credit movement, giving it a reputation and influence that goes well beyond Bangladesh’s borders. His absence at the helm can be expected to diminish the stature of the bank and the credibility of the micro-credit movement. Worse, allegations of financial malpractice against Yunus will erode the integrity of the hitherto respected bank.

There is reason to suspect that Yunus’ removal is politically motivated. Yunus’ plan to set up a political party in 2007 apparently did not go down well with the Awami League. Although the plan remained stillborn, Sheikh Hasina’s government seems to have neither forgotten nor forgiven Yunus for even contemplating that move — one that would have eroded the League’s support base had it taken concrete shape. It is believed that the decision to oust Yunus is aimed at clipping his wings and denying him the micro-credit platform that has made him popular in rural Bangladesh. Hasina’s government has sacked him on a technical issue. The central bank has charged the 71-year-old Yunus of overstaying as the bank’s managing director; the age of retirement being 65 years. But Yunus claims the rule does not apply to the Grameen Bank. Yunus’ leadership and his contribution to fighting poverty through micro-credit is immense. It is therefore unfortunate that he has had to be forced out of an institution that he built through much hard work. Surely the spat could have been resolved through dialogue.

The US’ backing of Yunus has complicated the matter. The spat between him and the Bangladesh government is a domestic issue. Yet middle-level American officials have been issuing statements warning of negative consequences for US-Bangladesh relations if Yunus is ousted. They have reportedly been telling Bangladeshi officials that only a solution that is ‘personally agreeable’ to Yunus will do. Such meddling is rather excessive. It is true that the Grameen Bank will suffer without Yunus’ leadership. But his exit will not mean the end of the institution. If Yunus was indeed a great leader he would have developed a second-rung leadership.

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