Elliot Wilson

Breaking the bank

The vendetta against Bangladesh’s Nobel Peace Prize winner

The vendetta against Bangladesh’s Nobel Peace Prize winner

‘It is all lies,’ says Muhammad Yunus, his voice quiet but firm. ‘The media in Bangladesh attacks me unceasingly and I cannot stop them, but the accusations are untrue.’

I believe him absolutely. Yunus is a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has done perhaps more than any other living person to alleviate global poverty. Grameen Bank, the microfinance operation that he founded nearly 30 years ago, has (by lending to even the very poorest families) transformed the lives of millions of his fellow Bangladeshis and become a model emulated across the world. But he is now living in fear of his government, which seems bent on discrediting him. ‘My voice is not heard. They will find a way to create mud and then make it stick to me.’

In the past few months Yunus has been hounded out of his bank: he must retire, says the government, because the law states that no one over 60 can run a financial institution in Bangladesh. So why, asks Yunus, who turns 71 in June and has been happily running Grameen for the past decade, did no one mention this before? His final appeal was dismissed on 5 May by the country’s supreme court, leaving him bereft and unemployed.

Yunus’s mortal enemy, and the source of his misery, is the country’s prime minister and ruling matriarch, Sheikh Hasina Wazeb, who many believe is orchestrating the attacks on him via a pliant media and legal system. Hasina has referred to Yunus as a ‘bloodsucker’, and accuses Grameen of predatory lending and of charging extortionate interest.

This is just not true. Grameen’s rates of interest are reasonable, and Yunus himself is a humble man who lives with his wife in a one-bedroom flat.

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