As reported by KSL Reporter Stephanie Grimes
“SALT LAKE CITY — Growing up in a poor village in sub-Saharan Africa, Yeah Samake never imagined himself to be the future front-runner in the 2012 Malian presidential race.
But that is exactly the position in which the Mali native and BYU alumnus finds himself as he visits Utah this week to raise funds for his 2012 campaign. Samake will host a free “family night” Monday at the UCCU Events Center at Utah Valley University, where attendees can learn about Samake’s upbringing and his plans for his campaign.
His story is one of “small miracles.” The Ouelessebougou, Mali, native attended school in a village where only 15 percent of children were able to do so.
After earning his undergraduate degree in Mali, a sponsorship by a Colorado family took Samake to Brigham Young University, where he graduated with a master’s degree in public policy and a desire to return to Mali and serve his country.
“Where much is given, much is expected,” Samake said. “I have been given much. I have been fortunate with the level of education I have. I can stay in America and enjoy the luxury and abundance here, and not go back to Mali and struggle, but I love my country.”
It was that love that led Samake to run for mayor of Ouelessebougou in 2009, where as a Latter-day Saint he received 86 percent of the vote in a town that was 90 percent Muslim.
“In Mali, religion is not a divider,” he said. “We are looking for someone who cares for the country, and has love of the country, but also has the skill set, the passion, to bring this country out of poverty.”
In two years as mayor, he made progress toward that goal in Ouelessebougou, turning it from a poor village in one of the poorest countries in the world into one of the top five economies in Mali. Samake said his success in Oulessebougou, a sister city to Salt Lake City that encompasses 44 villages, can be attributed to trust and transparency in government.
Samake met with the council of all of the city’s 44 villages to lay out a plan for improving the city, focusing on decreasing corruption and tax evasion.
“I covenanted — I promised — if they would pay their taxes, I would guarantee I would not misuse one cent of their money, and I would not let anyone else abuse it,” he said. “It meant a lot to them.”
That was, perhaps, because Malian government traditionally has been embroiled in corruption. Since opting for a democratic political system in 1991, the government has attempted to reform the tax code and the education and health sectors, but perceptions of corruption have actually increased. The problem is only aggravated by the high poverty rate: the average yearly income is only US$1,500 per person, and most Malians do not want to see their income disappear into the pockets of corrupt officials.
Between 2009 and 2010, though, tax payment in Ouelessebougou rose from 10 percent to 68 percent. Samake expects that number to reach 80-90 percent in 2011. He attributes the success to his creation of what he calls an elders quorum: two individuals from each village who overview quarterly the state of taxes in the city.
It was part of his plan to decentralize Ouelessebougou’s government and put power in the hands of the people instead of government officials; it is a plan he will apply to Mali if he is elected.
- Dec. 12, 6:30 p.m.
- Free to the public
“Central government is not best suited to solve problems in local settings,” he said. “By giving power to the people and local leaders, we give them means and ways to come together and build a better environment locally.”
Samake said he imagines that if Mali were able to do this, the country would be in a very different situation than its current one.
“I was born 42 years ago in one of the poorest countries on earth,” he said. “Today, 42 years later, I’m running for president of one of the poorest countries on earth. Something is going wrong.”
Part of what went wrong is that leaders lost touch with why they were elected, said Samake, who believes leaders should exist to serve the citizens of their countries.
The importance of service is a lesson Samake says he took to heart at BYU and has not forgotten as he tries to effect change in a historically troubled country.
“I have seen freedom, and I hope to bring that same freedom to my country,” he said. “The passion for service that brought me to run for mayor is the same passion that is bringing me to run for president.”
“That’s why it makes sense for me to go back and give back to my country,” he continued. “Everything I am, I owe it first and foremost to my Lord, but also to my country.””
December 13, 2011 at 00:13
Marissa and Yeah,
I have notified all my friends and former colleagues at UVU to attend the Monday evening event and I hope it is packed. Good luck with it all!! I’ll be thinking of you and wishing I were there!
December 13, 2011 at 23:28
Louise, that is good to hear. Yeah had a few hundred in attendance. Miss you. Happy Holidays. Please give Gram a big hug from me when you see her. I miss her terribly
December 13, 2011 at 06:01
This was a fantastic event! My family and I enjoyed what Mayor Samake had to say. We were happy to be able to make a contribution as well. I did want to let you know that our contribution email had Mali spelled Mail in both the subject and in Samake’s signature. Best of luck!
December 13, 2011 at 23:27
I am so glad you were able to attend the event last night. Thank you, We received your generous donation. Thank you for supporting this dream that Yeah has for his people. It is the enthusiasm and generosity of families like yours that make the end achievable. Thank you again Mike and Happy Holidays
Dr. Yakubu Babangida.
December 31, 2011 at 18:27
Hello My friend, i am also a product of Brigham Young University and i am happy to see your courageous move for your people. more grace to your elbow.
i will not say much here but please try to personally contact me with the address firstname.lastname@example.org. also give us your phone number, your friends and brothers in the Alumni will surpport you. if you will loose, i can assure you, money will not be the reason. i am sure by the time we estabblish conntact, i will make oiut time to fly home to Africa and visit you in Mali.
you will make it bro.