Sunday, 31 May 2015

Bad Politics And Boatloads Of Refugees

A little bird tells me (okay, it was the Rakyat Times) that Tash Aw of The Harmony Silk Factory (I have actually read the book) fame, has waded into the huge conundrum of what to do with the Rohingya refugees.

To be fair, he makes some really good points about Malaysia stepping up to its role as ASEAN chair and using its economic power to deal with Myanmar.

After all, Malaysia has $1.65 billion worth of trade deals with Myanmar. That is no small amount.

It turns out that Myanmar also has gas, and Petronas is the principal foreign partner (yes, Malaysia unfailingly perks up at the mention of oil and gas) in the Yetagun offshore gas field.

For obvious reasons, Malaysia would have to think twice about upsetting Myanmar.

So like everyone else, I was rather surprised when the Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, actually met up with his Myanmarese counterpart and "asked for a guarantee from the Myanmar government to help in tackling the crisis while also stressing on the importance of Myanmar identifying and resolving the main cause of the problem."

That is progress because it tackles the root of the problem at this point: Myanmar.

Myanmar has categorically marginalised the Rohingya people. And bloody Aung San Suu Kyi has not said a damn thing about it; so much for her Nobel Peace Prize. Pooh.

One point that Myanmar repeatedly makes is that Rohingya are not inherently citizens of Myanmar. The accusation is that they are economic migrants from Bangladesh.

Assuming that this is true, this would force us to shift our attention to Bangladesh.

Now Bangladesh is a whole new can of worms.

I presume that at one point in time, it was part of India - back in those days when borders were superfluous and people moved about as they wished.

Then the British showed up, and after a prolonged battle for independence, India became a sovereign nation, resulting in many Muslims moving up to Pakistan.

Bangladesh was considered East Pakistan, before it finally seceded from Pakistan.

The governance of Bangladesh has always been pathetic. Like India, there has been assassinations, but the power has always been a game of musical chairs between the Zia dynasty, the Sheikh dynasty and the military.

Actually, it's been more of a wrestling match than game of musical chairs. But I digress.

All three groups are useless. The Sheikh governance particularly springs to mind, because in 2011, they tried to remove Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank.

Photo: Shahidul Alam, New York Times

I confess that I always sound like a teenage groupie whenever I talk about Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus.

This is because this economics doctorate-holder from Vanderbilt University in the US, who works as a professor in Bangladesh's Chittagong University, has managed to do what most governments could not.

He pioneered micro-credit in Bangladesh - basically lending money to classes of people formerly underserved: the poor, women, illiterate, and unemployed people.

Grameen Bank is founded on the principle that loans are better than charity to interrupt poverty: they offer people the opportunity to take initiatives in business or agriculture, which provide earnings and enable them to pay off the debt.

The bank is founded on the belief that people have endless potential, and unleashing their creativity and initiative helps them end poverty.

I confess that I am incredulous when I read that most of the loans are repaid.

The. Loans. Are. Repaid.

And these are poor people!

Another thing that he did, that would never come under the purview of a modern, impersonal bank, is that he created social rules for those taking credit from his bank.

These include: educating the children, community hygiene, and even against accepting dowry!

Yes, I was very impressed.

But good things never last. Someone always shows up and spoils the fun. This was the Sheikh Hasina administration, who took advantage of "non-compliance" in Bangladeshi banking regulations to get rid of him.

I was in high school when Muhammad Yunus was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his outstanding work. I remember reading about him.

Greed and jealousy of the incompetent Bangladeshi government, however, fomented within those 5 years to shut him out.

Muhammad Yunus and his bank could have done much more to improve the lives of the common Bangladeshi. Perhaps this would have reduced the number of refugees trying to flee Bangladesh.

Ironically, this is the story of two Nobel Prize winners.

One who was forced into silence, and one who remains silent of her own accord.

Malaysia’s Duty to the Rohingyas - New York Times

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