Editor’s Note: Yeah Samake’s story from a starving, impoverished Muslim child to becoming a Latter-day Saint running for Mali’s president is told in an earlier article found here.
Mitt Romney isn’t the only LDS candidate for a nation’s president that has run into trouble lately. Last March, only days from what should have been the election and with prospects looking very bright for winning, Yeah Samake, candidate for the president of Mali, watched with horror as a military junta took over his nation, a fledgling democracy in Africa.
In America for a brief visit, Yeah stopped by our home because he had a message he wanted to deliver to Mitt Romney, and all who supported him, but the story he told us about what he lived through in Mali during the coup bristles with guns and courage and gives this presidential candidate’s message a greater power, so we’ll deliver Yeah’s message to Mitt in a moment.
Mali takes up a large swathe of north western Africa, about the size of Arizona, Texas and Florida together. In the expansive and arid north, the people suffer from lack of food and extreme poverty, which made them vulnerable in 2003 for al Qaeda forces to begin to infiltrate with their deadly force and ideas, making a violent stronghold in the area. Malians living there learned what it was to live in terror, with powerful thugs enforcing their will by amputating limbs or stoning dissenters to death. It has become a nest of illegal and violent activity, and, like a rattlesnake under a rock, a hidden place to build to strike Western interests.
Malian soldiers were trying without enough support from the government to manage this treacherous situation in the north, but on January 17th, 98 soldiers were ambushed, their arms confiscated, hands tied behind their backs and then they were executed by having their throats slit.
Agonized by the situation, some soldiers who escaped, felt that the nation’s president had betrayed the military with sloppy, incompetent, corrupt leadership. To make things worse they had been fighting without adequate provisions, and when the minister of defense went to pacify them, he mismanaged the conversation. Bad went to worse and the military arose to overthrow the government in a coup.
Yeah was in a hotel across the street when the soldiers, with guns firing, took over the national television office. The Malian president had already fled the presidential palace for the American embassy when the rowdy and deadly soldiers blasted their way in there and took over the government.
Everywhere was confusion and chaos, strong-arming and violence as people hid in their homes, crouching for safety. “Suddenly the country was upside down,” Yeah said. “I came into my living room and, feeling depressed, laid down on the couch while the world was falling apart.
“Just then my wife, Marissa, came to me and kicked me. She said, ‘Get out of my living room. This is no pity party. You need to get out and do something.’
“The soldiers were out in the street shooting, but she said, ‘You and I have sacrificed everything to come back to Mali from America to serve your people. When times are this hard, leaders arise. You go out and do something.’”
Yeah said, “I took my bullet-proof jacket and put it on. Together we kneeled down and prayed and put on the whole armor of God. We prayed for my safety and we prayed for my country (Marissa is from India).”
What Yeah did next changed the course of his entire country, thanks to Marissa’s prodding. When he walked into the street, no leaders were there. Nobody but soldiers were there. They were all hiding. “I was worried. I was also determined. I was not sure what was going to happen.”
Soldiers were shooting everywhere and because a curfew was now imposed, checkpoints threatened at every corner. He got his driver and some party leaders and they began heading through the streets, resolved, that come what may, they would find the mutinous officer who led the overthrow and talk with him.
Soldiers, carrying guns, chased them through the streets, a lone automobile in a world with an imposed curfew. They went through five checkpoints where guns were pointed at their faces, and each time squeaked through. A tense Yeah knew that at any moment he could be shot.
Finally, they arrived at the barracks where the junta was headquartered. “I walked into the barracks amidst a forest of soldiers, hundreds of them, all with guns. They asked if I had an appointment and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Someone recognized him as a Malian presidential candidate and the mayor of Ouelessebougou, and then kept him waiting, waiting for an excruciatingly long time, like you’d see in a movie while a petty tyrant exercised his power. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said Yeah.
When his time to meet the junta leader came, Yeah walked in and said, “Captain, I have been waiting for you. I have come to ask you to give the power back to the civilians immediately.
The captain asked, “Why would I do that?”
Yeah answered, “I know you love your country. I love my country, too. I have sacrificed to be here. You cannot just take the power from the people. You would be a hero if you gave the power back to the civilian authority.”
He asked, “How?” Yeah answered, “I don’t know. You figure that out. But if there’s anything I can do, you can count on my help on behalf of this country.’
He was impressed that Yeah would come to see him right after the coup. The junta leader felt a mutual respect between them and asked, “Would you like to talk on national television?”
“This officer thought I would be in support of him,” Yeah said, “but instead I got on camera for national television, condemned the coup and made the plea for the military to turn the government back over to the civilians.” He urged citizens to send the message out, every way they could, including social media.
Of course, the military leader was angry about that and refused to run the spot, but those with Yeah filmed it on their iphones and then placed it on youtube, facebook, and all sorts of social media where it quickly traveled throughout Mali and the international community, giving people strength for resistance.
Yeah organized other leaders in Mali, including those who had been running with him for president, into the ADPS or Alliance for Democratic Patriots—people who were willing to fight for democracy so that they could be an alternate to military power.
The ADP put together proposals for what needed to happen next to return the government to civilian power and worked to bring pressure on the junta to return the society to constitutional order, appealing to the international community for help.