Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Muhammad wins the Nobel Peace prize two years in a row!

A few weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI cited a Byzantine emperor who claimed that Muhammad had brought nothing new to the world except war and violence. Yet in the past two years, the secretive Norwegian Nobel Committee has chosen Muhammad to receive its prestigious international peace prize. And not once, but twice in a row.

Well, not exactly. But it’s certainly significant that the two most recent recipients of this award have been prominent members of the Muslim intelligentsia who share the world’s most commonly used name given to male children.

Last year it was the Egyptian-born head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei. This year, the committee overlooked 190 other candidates to award the prize to an eccentric banker from the Indian sub-Continent.

Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi-born and American-trained economist who invented microcredit - an unusual method of lending money to people with no assets to mortgage and nothing to offer except a business plan and economic desperation that forces them into hard work.

Yunus’s Grameen Bank has now lent over $8 billion, most of it to impoverished villagers in Bangladesh and other parts of the Third World. Although largely unknown in the West (as opposed to prominent politicians and activists among past winners), Yunus and his bank are household names in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Grameen Bank has an impressive array of assets. It owns Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone network. The bank has played an important role in assisting women from impoverished backgrounds gain some financial independence, particularly women whose male providers are unable to find work.

Muhammad Yunus’ unique banking methodology has been applied outside Bangladesh to great effect. His bank has worked on development projects for women in Vietnam and other parts of the world. From time to time, he has fallen foul of religious zealots in Bangladesh unhappy at what they perceive as Yunus’ methods challenging traditional Bangladeshi gender relations.

Yunus isn’t the only Muslim to receive a Nobel Prize. This year, the Nobel Committee awarded prizes to two prominent Muslims, the other being Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.

First published in the Crikey! Daily alert for 18 October 2006.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

2 comment(s):

  • the micro loan myth - or, as some would call it... the snake oil of "micro loan" - hardly something to be proud off... unless people think it is a good idea to put poor women into debt. Plenty of credit available to poor people in the US - we call 'em loan sharks - charging hugely high interest to very low wage earners... sure, credit helps people to get out of short term problems. But we are talking about structual poverty because of capitalism - not because of some short term need/problems.


    Sainath points out that the interest rates micro-indebted women are paying in India are far higher than commercial bank lending rates.

    "They are paying between 24 and 36 per cent on loans for productive expenditures while an upper class person can finance the purchase of a Mercedes at 6 to 8 per cent from the banking system."

    The average loan of the Grameen bank is $130 in Bangladesh, lower in India. Now, the basic problem of the poor in both countries is landlessness, lack of assets. In the Indian province of Andhra Pradesh, where there are thousands of microloan groups, land costs 100,000 rupees an acre, poor land maybe 60,000 rupees--over $2000. $130 doesn't buy you the ranch, not even a good cow or buffalo. So how many poor women have escaped the poverty trap in AP, Sainath asks. "Try getting an answer."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/22/2006 04:16:00 AM  

  • As Salaam u Alaikum,

    I have been wanting to write on this as well, but have been able to.

    A few things that stand out for me:
    - The ridiculously high interest rates (~30%), which is highly unethical in itself, but the fact that it is being used in Muslim countries where the deperate poverty of people doesn't leave them much other options. Damn, at 30%, thats like saying credit cards here can be used to help people get out of poverty

    - The idea that even "charity" (whatever definition we take) can be made in to a business/banking model

    - Poverty is not about just cash flow. Will minute increases in income provide healthcare, education, housing? The problems are deeper and go to the roots of our economic systems, locally and globally

    - I am immediately suspicious of any scheme, model, new idea, when it has not only folks like Hilary Clinton supporting, but even a neo-con and World Bank head like Paul Wolfowitz cheering for this....

    This is not to cast aspersions upon the Muhammad Younis. But I think it is important to recognize the very severe limitations of such models, and to be especially aware of the people jumping on the bandwagon.

    some more reads:

    By Blogger malangbaba, at 10/22/2006 07:18:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home