Donate to Yeah Samake's presidential campaign at www.samake2013.com
It’s down to the wire. The election in Mali is July 28—less than three weeks away—and Yeah Samake, the only Mormon in Mali, is running for president. He is in a hot seat at a time when the worried eyes of the world have been turned on Mali as one of the most difficult areas in the world.
A separatist movement in the country’s north, combined with the desperation of poverty, left the region vulnerable to Islamist militants, who dominated the area most of last year. Their atrocities were searing, including the random kidnapping of school children, bloody executions and sharia law.
Though the Islamists were largely chased out of the north in January and February by the French and Chadian military, many remain in lawless southern Libya with eyes to move against Mali again.
An al Quaeda stronghold in west Africa would give them a springboard to attack the West and make the rest of Africa vulnerable to the jihadists.
Yeah says the best antidote against this grim scenario is a strong Mali where people are flourishing and have faith in their government. Mali is a place of rich resources and poor people. Much of the difficulty springs from a government that is corrupt, officials that line their pockets instead of care for the people. The people have lost hope in their government. He hopes to be elected and change all that.
He was able to do that in Ouelessebougou where he is the mayor. When he became mayor, the city was listed as 697 of the 703 cities and villages of Mali. Now, he has been able to raise the city to be number 7 in the country. He has built a hospital, schools, solar panels to bring the people electricity.
It is no secret how he did that remarkable feat. He governed with integrity—something the people had not been used to. At the time he became mayor, fewer than 10% of the people paid taxes any more. Yet, he had a stake in this city—made up of several villages—because his third great grandfather was the founder, and he felt a stewardship to bless the people.
Yeah had come from Mali to BYU where he got a masters’ degree and then settled in Lehi, Utah where he ran a foundation which built schools in Mali. He could have been perfectly happy staying, but he is fond of saying, “I need America, but America doesn’t need me. Mali needs me.”
It was a leap of faith to return to Mali to run for mayor (a job that paid only $120/month), but in his heart, he always believed his destiny was to help his own people. Ouelessebougou needed a change, a renewal of faith of the people in their government.
He traveled to each of the villages that make up Ouelessebougou and asked the people to pay their taxes. He said, “Trust me,” and he was as good as his word when he created an “Elders’ Quorum”, a representative council of citizens representing each village to talk about how the taxes would be spent. He insisted on complete transparency with the money and that taxes would be used to better the lives of the people.
He also sat down with the officials in his town and announced to them that there would be no more graft or corruption. “When they absolutely knew they were going to be paid on time, they turned away from corruption,” he says. 80% of corruption, Yeah says, comes from insecurity and poverty.
Now, Yeah is working feverishly in his bid for the presidency—and he is up against candidates who represent the old way, whose pasts are riddled with misconduct and self-serving.
He is Mali’s hope. He believes that a principled government can bring prosperity to the people. He believes that Mali’s natural resources can be marshaled to create jobs and raise people out of poverty. He believes that Mali’s experiment in democracy can withstand against violent forces that would infiltrate the land.
Now in these last days before the election, he is still looking to raise funds. It takes money to travel to meet the people, money for an effective organization to communicate his message to the citizens, to whom he is hoping to inject new hope.
The old guard, who are riddled with corruption, can get money from those who want favors later. In contrast, Yeah has to look abroad for money to run his campaign from those who have nothing to gain and will not demand recompense in government corruption.
Running for president in these circumstances requires enormous, day-to-day faith, and Yeah has grown to be a man of great capacity because it has been expected of him. Still there are moments when the heart flags just a bit and he needs a boost of encouragement.
That’s why a note from Yeah’s home teacher, Ryan Fritzche, meant so much to him. Because Yeah and his family are alone as Mormons in Mali, they have no immediate bishop or branch president. In theory, they have no home teacher, but Yeah’s home teacher from Lehi took it upon himself to continue his job when Yeah and his family moved to Africa. Remember, this is not a calling, not a duty. It is an act of love from a home teacher who still takes his job very seriously.
Each month, Ryan writes Yeah, and one month the email came right when Yeah needed it. It was about stewardship and resonated with Yeah because he has always had a sense of stewardship to help and bless his people of Mali. That is the drive that has fired him—a consuming desire to lift the people of his country.
Ryan wrote: So I know it is the end of the month, and I apologize for not providing you a message earlier in the month. [This from a home teacher who is self-assigned.]
“…If you look up the meaning of stewardship, it says it is the responsibility of overseeing and protecting something considered worth caring for and preserving. Stewardship is not Ruling. I see it as leading with a pure love for those in your care…
“But stewardship does not just fall within the church…
“Yeah and Marissa, I look at both of you as being blessed with opportunities very few have. I can see the gifts that God has given both of you that make you so great. You two were brought together for a great purpose. Both of you have certain strengths that allow you to be successful in not only raising a great family and kids, but to be leaders that multitudes of people look up to for a source of leadership, compassion and love.
“It was no accident that you came to America. It was no accident or coincidence that you converted to the Church. It is no accident that you are the mayor and it is no accident that you are a lead candidate for the presidency of Mali. God has his hand in your life.
“We learn and grow line by line, step by step. The talents you have been given, you have strengthened and expanded… Because of this, God provides you with more talents and opportunities.