Sunday, October 15, 2006

Honours: Nobel Prize: Peace Prize goes to world's greatest banker for microcredit loans to Bangladesh's poor

It's become so blatantly obvious in recent years that the Nobel Prize for Peace distorts the significance of the prize. But this year's dramatic distortion is more than made-up for, in that it at the same time rectifies the gross failure of the Nobel Prize for Economics to honour the new (Peace) winner, Muhammad Yunus of the founder and chief executve officer of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh. In a major write-up Lars Bevanger writing from Oslo, Norway, where the Peace Prize is announced, in "Changing scope of Nobel peace prize" (Oct14,2k6), analyzes the change in the who gets the Peace prize:

Mr Yunus had not been among the favourites to win this year's prize. There was a moment of surprised silence among the gathered journalists as this year's winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were announced.

In the days leading up to the announcement, the main focus had been on the parties to one of the very few really successful peace deals in our days - the agreement between the Indonesian government and rebels in the Aceh region.

In a year with such a clear positive effort in the drive to stop armed conflict, few if any had guessed that the prize would go to Bangladeshi banker and economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank.

The choice represents a furthering of the Norwegian Nobel Committee's expressed desire to expand the scope of the prize beyond acknowledging those directly involved in preventing armed conflict.

When the prize was awarded to environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004, some here wondered what her fight against African de-forestation had to do with peace.

In his speech to that year's Nobel Laureate, the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, argued her work also contributed to promoting democracy and human rights.

"Today there are few things peace researchers and other scholars are readier to agree on than precisely that democracy and human rights advance peace", Mr Mjoes said.
Europe > Norway
The link between poverty and peace is perhaps more tangible, and few will be critical of the Nobel Committee's decision to honour the work of Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank to provide poor entrepreneurs with the financial ability to help themselves.

Sverre Lodgaard, the director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and also first deputy member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told the BBC this year's prize was spot on.

"The committee has in later years been good at expanding its view on what the prize should entail. That they now include development is great.

"More people die each year from poverty than from war, so a fight against the violence which is perpetrated through the extreme division in our world's resources is very welcome", Mr Lodgaard said.

'Aceh missed out'

But some feel the Nobel Committee this year missed a rare chance to honour a tangible result of straightforward conflict prevention.

The director of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Stein Toennesson, said he was happy on behalf of Mr Yunus, but argued that it was unfortunate the prize this year had not gone to the people behind the peace deal in Indonesia's Aceh province.

"I feel Aceh deserved the prize this year. This was a year where something was actually achieved, and Alfred Nobel himself in his will underlined the prize should go to someone who had achieved something in the past year.
Banker Yunus doesn't have a panacea for all the world's economic and business woes, but he offers a living example of an important part of the longterm solution and has provided a massive example of financing profitably micro-entrepreneurs from one of the most immiserated sectors of global society, his own Bangladesh.

Another candidate for the Peace prize this year was an American woman (out of 191 total candidates) famous for turning against the mission of her own son who lost his life in the war to liberate Iraq from terrorism, and to establish a stable prosperous democracy there. Cindy Sheehan calls her son's murderers "freedom fiters," and has placed no markers on her son's grave, while earning a living by making defamatory speeches and politicking to dishounour her son's beliefs and commiment, unto death.

If Muhammad Yunus were selected only to save the world from Cindy Sheehan's dishonourable campaign in the name of "peace," then the five secretive ex-politicians on the Nobel Peace Prize committee did a wise thing. But, avoinding Sheehan, they overlooked the difficult painful process of making peace between Aceh and Indonesia.

The strange thing is that Yunus wasn't honoured in economics. His contribution in economics far outdistances the economics theoreticians -- how the prize committee in economics loves to award academic PhD-bearing economists, and nobdy else -- the Prize committee awards in that field. An award otherwise would have startled the world, startled indeed if these yawning fawners had selected a real-life banker who found a way (not perfect!) to get seed-capital into the hands of unemployed would-be entrepreneurs by the practice of micro-lending. And collecting back the principal over a stated period of time. And determining interest rates, where of course a certain percentage of borrowers' new businesses go belly-up and the owners' default. This is Yunus! He raised microcredit to a fine art; he seeded people, mostly women, in poverty in a culture of poverty in Bangladesh, and has lawnched a counter-force to the structural immiseration of a huge proporation of the populace in that country. Now, if Yunus had received the Nobel Prize for Economics (breaking academicistic obsession); and Aceh had received the Nobel Prize for Peace (recognizing an actual achievement on the peace-front in the last year), then the Nobels mite have regained a bit of their prestige.

However, with the line-up I have suggested, adding to it the fact that the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel for Lit (his novels), has political reverberations all over his natve land and the EU, says Anaximaximum on refWrite backpage, commenting on Sarah Rainford's BBC aritcle. Yunus, Aceh, and Pamuks ... three Islamics in one's years awards!, that would have been too much for the still-stodgy center of Nobelism.

-- Owlb

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