Dr. Yunus And The Recent Vatican Human Fraternity Conference – OpEd


The controversial Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Mohammad Yunus has participated in the 2nd World Meeting on Human Fraternity at the Vatican on 10 May 2024. The two-day conference was organized by the Fratelli Tutti Foundation to discuss ways of promoting human fraternity in areas of environment, education, business, agriculture, media and health. Thirty Nobel Peace Prize winners, scientists, economists, mayors, doctors, managers, workers, sports champions and ordinary citizens took part in the conference.

The President of the foundation, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti began the conference’s first round-table discussion focusing on promoting global peace calling for an end to war. Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, contends that by killing their fellow human beings, people not only destroy the dignity of others but their own as well. However, the irony is that, Professor Yunus, who has a sneaking support for the marauding Israeli occupation forces in Gaza and their military White House aides, has raved about his anti-war stance at the conference table. His recent receipt of the award given by an Israeli sculptor in March 2024 testifies to his support for the massacre in Palestine perpetrated by Israel. He was conferred the ‘UNESCO’s Tree of Peace’ award on the 11th day of the Baku conference in Azerbaijan upon invitation from the Ganjavi Foundation. We are surprised to learn that UNESCO had not given him any award called “Tree of Peace”. It was confirmed by UNESCO’s Dhaka office that its Paris headquarters were not aware of such a prize and there was no official UNESCO representation as such at the 11th Baku Forum. Professor Yunus has proved much given to displaying his pseudo pacifist beliefs. 

In his Vatican speech, Professor Yunus underlined the importance of rediscovering ourselves as “human beings with human value”, and reconstructing the society to achieve “a civilization of three zeros: zero global warming, zero wealth concentration and zero unemployment” (Catholic Review, May 10, 2024). Society, he said, is “based on maximization of profit, accumulation is the key of [sic] civilization, and (in it) we lose all the human values in us” (Ibid).

How much true the Nobel Laureate is to his word is open to question. How far his micro credit ventures in Bangladesh go hand in hand with the concept of human value and Three Zero Civilization is subject to public scrutiny. His Grameen Bank and other sister concerns proved examples of profit maximization and wealth accumulation. His journey from an economist to a global icon began with the establishment of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Founded in 1983, Grameen Bank’s avowed aim was to provide microcredit to the poor, particularly women empowering them to alleviate rural poverty. Yunus’s alleged misuse of funds and questionable business practices have cast shadows over his illustrious career. Despite Grameen Bank’s establishment under the auspices of the Bangladesh government, he wielded enormous control over its operations and established a network of 28 affiliated institutions. This consolidation of power has raised legitimate concerns about accountability and transparency within the organization, prompting calls for greater oversight and scrutiny.

As Yunus’s actions and associations have come under intense scrutiny and raised questions about his integrity and motives, he is using his global personal leverages, rhetoric of social slogans and anti-govt campaign to cushion from the controversies. His recent participation in the Rome Human Fraternity conference is part of it.  

Yunus’s innovative approach to poverty alleviation called international attention and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. This has consolidated his status as a champion of social change and brought him under the global spotlight. However, his entanglement in Bangladesh’s tumultuous political landscape, particularly during the 1/11 regime, marked a significant turning point in his career. As the military-backed caretaker government sought to reshape the country’s political dynamics in an unconstitutional way, Yunus emerged as a central figure, exerting a strong influence and leveraging his international connections to navigate the complex geopolitical landscape. His skill at cultivating international relationships has been a cornerstone of his strategy. He has close ties with figures like former US President Bill Clinton, his wife and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Barak Obama. Yunus’s influence on US political circles led to the withholding of World Bank funds for the construction of the Padma Bridge. Moreover, his alignment with the Democratic Party further solidified his position, allowing him to bring the intricate political dynamics to his advantage.

\However, Yunus’s international standing could not protect him from allegations of financial impropriety and ethical lapses. Investigations by Norway’s state television and subsequent documentaries have shed light on potential corruption within his network including the diversion of millions of dollars from Grameen Bank to personal ventures like Grameen Kalyan. These revelations, coupled with accusations of mismanagement and lack of oversight within entities like Grameen Fund, have cast a dark cloud over his once-sterling reputation.

Professor Yunus is not with an unblemished reputation in Bangladesh. Many see him as a symbol of wealth accumulation and bank interest mongering, rather than a selfless champion of the underdog. His image has been tarnished by allegations of tax evasion, which have landed him in legal trouble. Instead of addressing these allegations head-on, Professor Yunus appears to be leveraging his Nobel status to escape the tax evasion trial, which has not gone unnoticed by the Bangladeshi public. 

There is no denying the fact that Professor Yunus’s achievements have transformed countless lives across the globe. But that cannot condone one’s corrupt practices. Many of his activities have come into question and investigations are being pursued in the country as per law. What he preaches should be compatible with what he practices.  And the international forums and their organizers should have second thoughts about whether they should invite such a person to a conference on human fraternity whose activities have raised a storm of controversy in his country and beyond. 

Dr. Rashid Askari

Dr. Rashid Askari is a distinguished academic, bilingual author and the former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh.

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