Friday, May 04, 2007

Yunus Plucks His Hat From The Ring

Latest from Bangladesh: As you may have heard, Muhammad Yunus (the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of microcredit) has decided to indefinitely postpone his plan to launch a new political party in his home country. The situation there is very volatile, and with political activities officially forbidden by the interim government for at least the next year, Yunus has said he feels the time is not right for him to enter politics.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Bangladesh is a very troubled country that desperately needs the kind of principled, far-sighted political leadership Yunus might have brought it. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that Yunus would succeed in reforming the horribly corrupt system that prevails there--and even to try could well put his own personal safety at risk. (And from my selfish perspective, his withdrawal from politics means he will be able to devote more time to working on and promoting the book I am helping him with.)

What is weird, however, is how disparate the published accounts of Yunus's decision are. The brief item in today's New York Times simply stated:
Mr. Yunus issued his statement [of withdrawal] after he met Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the army-backed interim government. Mr. Yunus said he felt that the interim government, which had restored relative calm in the country after deadly political violence last year, would be able to steer Bangladesh to progress.
(This is worded so as to be a little inaccurate. The clause, "after he met Fakhruddin Ahmed" seems to imply that this was Yunus's first introduction to Dr. Ahmed. Actually they are old friends. The Times should have written, "after he met with Fakhruddin Ahmed.")

By contrast, the Daily Star (Bangladesh's largest English-language paper) explained Yunus's decision this way:
In the open letter [explaining his withdrawal], Yunus said he had been in regular contact with people who he thought would strengthen his party. "These communications have gradually made it clear that those who encouraged me will not join politics themselves and will not publicly support me because they have their own problems," Yunus said.

He said in light of the absence of his supporters, "I opposed the creation of a weak team." It would be better to wait for others to build a strong team and succeed in creating a new stream of politics, he added.
Unlike the Times, the Star makes it sound as though Yunus's decision is based far less on his sense of confidence in the interim government than in the melting away of the high-level political support he'd originally expected to receive.

On the face of it, the Star's explanation sounds far more pragmatic and plausible than the Times's. (I haven't pressed Yunus personally for an explanation.) The whole small episode is, for me, an interesting reminder about how little we Americans actually know or understand about what is happening in the rest of the world, reliant as we are on news reports that are generally sketchy, partial, ill-informed, dated, or just plain inaccurate.

Yet despite our ignorance, we bear the ultimate responsibility for U.S. government policies that often have crucial and sometimes devastating effects on the world's far-flung peoples. It's a wonder we don't do even more damage than we do.

Tags: ,
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

"Infused with entrepreneurial spirit and the excitement of a worthy challenge."--Publishers Weekly

Read more . . .


What do GE, Pepsi, and Toyota know that Exxon, Wal-Mart, and Hershey don't?  It's sustainability . . . the business secret of the twenty-first century.

Read more . . .