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Asia

Yunus' dismissal and the fallout

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus' dismissal as managing director of the Grameen Bank has deepened divisions in Bangladeshi society and raised concerns about the relationship between the government and the NGO sector.

On Tuesday, Bangladesh's Supreme Court rejected Yunus' appeal against his dismissal

On Tuesday, Bangladesh's Supreme Court rejected Yunus' appeal against his dismissal

The confrontation between Professor Yunus and the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh has once again polarized public opinion in Bangladesh. Many, like Muzaffar Ahmed, a retired professor of economics at Dhaka University, argue that Yunus was wrong in staying in his post beyond the legal retirement age of 60 years.

"The happy compromise could have been that Yunus could become a distinguished emeritus advisor for Grameen Bank," says Ahmed. "And I think the government is still open to that suggestion."

Targeted by political opponents?

For many of Yunus' supporters, however, he is the victim of a political vendetta. They say the prime minister has not forgiven Yunus for his plans some years ago to start a political party.

Critics say that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has deliberately targeted Yunus

Critics say that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has deliberately targeted Yunus

Akbar Ali Khan, another leading Bangladeshi economist, sees a danger that the government might feel tempted to interfere in the decision on who should succeed Yunus at the Grameen Bank, which is partly state-owned. "Now if there is a sudden change in all the middle level and senior level leadership, then there might be serious problems. So that is why the transition should be smooth, harmonious and cordial."

Khan is worried that the government's campaign against Yunus will create longer-term problems not only for the work of Grameen Bank, but also for other microcredit organizations and civil society groups. "Surely it will have an effect on microcredit in Bangladesh. Because during the last three or even four decades, the government and the NGOs have been acting hand in hand. And there were never so many differences between the NGO sector and the government as we see now. Some of the fundamental achievements of the NGOs are now being questioned by the government."

Criticism of Yunus

Professor Muzaffar Ahmed, on the other hand, acknowledges Yunus' historic achievements, but also insists his critics have a point. "He had a dream, and he has realized that dream. He had thought of reaching the poor with credit without collateral not only in Bangladesh, but also outside Bangladesh. So he has done this," concedes Ahmed.

Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006

Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006

"But two aspects possibly remain questionable as far as the critics are concerned: One is, the relationship of Grameen Bank with the commercial organizations that are run with Grameen Bank money is not transparent. The other is the role of multinationals."

Under Yunus, the Grameen Bank entered into cooperations with a number of multinational companies. The Grameen group's business activities include its own mobile phone network.

Yunus has many influential supporters abroad. The US government has called for a compromise solution for his retirement and warned of consequences for bilateral relations with Bangladesh otherwise. But in Bangladesh, most observers agree that the Yunus affair is unlikely to have a lasting negative impact on the country's relations with important partners.

Author: Thomas Bärthlein
Editor: Ziphora Robina

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