Leave Yunus Alone

The outrageous persecution of Muhammad Yunus by the government of Bangladesh has gone from bad to worse. On March 2nd, the government-appointed “chairman” of Grameen Bank, a microfinance institution founded by Mr Yunus for which he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, announced that Yunus had been fired as managing director because his reappointment in 2000 had never been valid in the first place. Reportedly the Bangladesh central bank never approved the appointment, as it was supposed to do, and now regards it as “unlawful” – though, as the micro-lender’s main regulator it has been consistently giving Grameen a clean bill of health for the past decade, and has neglected to bring up this matter before now.

As we have argued before, though we have issues with Mr Yunus’s attacks on for-profit microfinance, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him in opposing this politically-motivated attack. We note with alarm that the Bangladesh government is continuing to up the ante despite widespread opposition in the global media and by some of the most respected leaders of the international community, including the founders of the new group, Friends of Grameen.

As Grameen points out, it is owned by its 8 million or so borrowers, most of them relatively poor women. It remains to be seen if the voice of these owners will be heard. There is a real danger that what is in effect an attempted takeover by the Bangladesh government will do serious damage to Grameen and the people it helps. While there are certainly examples of for-profit microlenders harming the poor, we think the greater harm to the poor is often done by the politicians who purport to be on their side. We fear this will be anther example of that shameful truth – and can only hope that, even at this late hour, common sense will prevail, and that the government of Bangladesh will leave Grameen and its founder alone to get on with the work they have hitherto been doing so well.