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Impacting Governance at the local level

On March 16th a delegation of Malian mayors and municipal leaders left hot, sweltering Mali for Utah. The goal was to attend a 3-day governance summit in Salt Lake City, Utah.

One of the key things that Yeah hopes to offer as President of Mali is further training and exchange between Malian leaders at the local level and local leaders in other countries, so that an exchange of ideas and best practices can happen. This falls in line with one of the key platform points of the Samaké campaign: decentralization of power. No one knows better how to solve the problems of the Malian people at the local level than the Malian leaders that govern them locally. By providing them the tools to make better decisions and implement different ideas, we are stretching minds to the endless possibilities that can give Malian people a better life and it all starts with educating and empowering local leadership.

The summit and the trip were made possible by a partnership between the Utah based foundation Empower Mali and Utah League of Cities and Towns. Yeah, as the Mayor of Ouelessebougou, Mali, led the delegation of local leaders. The really cool thing about this delegation is that its members hail from 5 of the 8 regions in Mali, even war torn Tombouctou.

maliregions

The delegation includes members from different political parties. It included the following members:
• Nampaga Coulibaly, Mayor, Misseni (Population: 45,000 people, Sikasso Region)
• Diarha Diarra, Mayor, Moribabougou (Population: 29,000 people, Koulikoro Region)
• Sekou Boubacar Doucoure, Mayor, Tele (Population: 2,078+ people, Tombouctou Region)
• Malik Guindo, City Council Member, Doucoumbo (Population: 13,000+ people, Mopti Region)
• Malick Keita, Mayor, N’Gabacoro (17,000+ people, Koulikoro Region)
• Ousmane Kouyate, City Manager, Ouelessebougou (Population: 44,000+ )
• Birama Traoré, Mayor, Kirané (Population: 40,000+ people, Kayes Region)
• Barakatoulahi Keita, Partnership Coordinator, Association of Malian Municipalities
• Mamadou Tangara, Mayor of Kénédougou, Sikasso City ( Population: 230,000+, Region of Sikasso)
• Delegation led by Yeah Samaké, Mayor of Ouelessebougou (Population: 44000+, Koulikoro Region)

The 3-day summit was jam packed with visits and discussions all over the state of Utah from Logan to Provo. City Councilman Carlton Christensen greeted the delegation on behalf of UCLT. The delegation also received a warm welcome at a luncheon hosted by the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah. The Mayors were impressed with the student’s commitment and involvement in government studies. Prominent figures like Mayor Mike Winder and Director of the Hinckley Institute, Kirk Jowers expressed hope that a partnership between local leaders in Utah and Mali would be solidified through this exchange. The energy was high and this was a great start to the three day summit in Utah. The delegation, despite being extremely tired and jet lagged, was excited at the endless possibilities of what they would take away from this experience during the next few days.

During the remaining days, the delegation also visited facilities like the UTA Trax Station, Sandy City Fire Department, Waste Management Transfer Station, Salt Lake Valley Landfill, Parleys Canyon Water Facility and Salt Lake City Waste Water Facility. These are all new experiences for the group. These kind of high end facilities are not available in Mali. That is not to say there is no fire, waste or police facilities in Mali. The difference is that the level of resources committed does not even begin to compare. The delegation was impressed by the organization of these facilities, especially the police station, water and waste plants. They asked many questions on how these facilities worked at a local level to handle the State’s needs. The mayors discussed the significant differences between waste and water management in Mali and waste and water management in the U.S. and what measures they can take to improve access to and quality of water and handling of waste in their own communities.

The delegation also had a unique opportunity to visit with the Sandy City, South Jordan and Ogden City councils. This gave them the opportunity to compare these councils and their functions against similar councils in their own regions. Each of these mayors works together with the city council in Mali in their respective regions to determine things like budget and requirements within the city limits. So it was nice to see some similarity of a process and observe how things are done in the US vs. Mali. The delegation also met with the African representative Franz Kolb at the Utah Office of Economic Development and Lew Cramer, President of the World Trade Center. The key topic of discussion was how to realistically implement a partnership between the cities in Utah and the cities represented by the delegation.

A good starting point was determined to be via the school systems in Utah and the primary schools in their cities. The delegation was pleased and impressed by the discussion and with the prospect of business partnerships between cities in Mali and cities in Utah.

The trip to Utah also included a visit to beautiful Temple Square. The delegation had a meeting with Elder Robert Gay of the Quorum of the Seventy of the LDS Church. Elder Gay is in charge of employment, education, and new business startups worldwide. At this meeting, they discussed the role of the Church in helping young people to find work after they have graduated. Elder Gay also emphasized that if education is only in the cities then the youth will come to the cities and never go back to the villages. The organization Unitus that Elder Gay helped start up is in the process of building apps that can be used on tablets and phones to help educate individuals in the rural villages. They are also focusing on water innovation in rural areas, primarily in Africa. Elder Gay asked the delegation to send him an official invitation to Mali to for his education application pilot program. The group also visited Welfare Square where they looked in amazement at the scale of services offered to the needy through the thrift store and employment program.

The final high note was a visit to none other than Costco. It is amazing the things we take for granted. Seeing so much food and items in one place can be overwhelming. The delegation loved it! I remember Yeah telling me when he first went to Costco back in 1999 when he first went the US, the feeling of awe that went through him and the realization that all the food there could help feed his own people back home.

All the delegation members wished the trip in Utah could go on longer so that they could see more and learn more. That is definitely something we will implement next year when we invite yet another batch of municipal leaders and mayors to come to Utah and other parts of the US for an exchange. The delegation was pleased with the trip and spoke of plans to act on what they had seen and learned, particularly in regards to partnerships.

I am thankful to all the wonderful people in Utah who helped with the delegation, especially the Utah League of Cities and Towns for arranging the meetings, the Empower Mali Foundation for arranging everything on the Mali side, our volunteers who translated and helped where they could, Jen Leahy our amazing photographer and Brett Van Leeuwen who kindly arranged lodging for all the delegation members in beautiful Alpine, Utah. It is support like this that makes what we do a possibility. We are grateful for your support!

The delegation is currently in NYC where they had the opportunity to visit the United Nations and the current Ambassador of Mali to the US Al-Maamoun Baba Lamine Keita. Also NYC hosts a strong population of Malians. The delegation was excited to meet with and mingle with many members there. The Malians in NYC showed great hospitality to the delegation, a tradition not forgotten or absolved of even though they are many miles away from Mali. The Malian delegation will return back to Mali this week.

It is opportunities like these that will empower our local leaders to effect change in their own communities. Yeah has often said: “A mind once stretched can never go back”. Yeah, through his public policy education at Brigham Young University, Utah has learned many things about governance. He has been able to apply the things that will work and has moved Ouelessebougou from the bottom 10 cities in Mali to one of the top five cities in terms of development and transparency. He talked last year with the Sutherland Institute about how his education has helped him . You can watch that video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8nFS7AwrpU

It is essential that leaders be given the opportunity to see the endless possibilities and then pick and choose what will work to better their communities’ lives and livelihood. We want Mali to be a strong nation with a prosperous people. It is for that reason that we create opportunities like these. We hope that through these conferences and summits, that we can affect change at the local level. It is a possibility that can be made a reality with the right kind of leadership and implementing the right processes for change. Ouelessebougou, Mali is proof of that and the track record of Yeah Samaké displays that he is the leader of good, honest change and can make Mali a great nation.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Past Posts

 

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French Ambassador Rouyer makes historic visit to Ouelessebougou

Ouelessebougou and the surrounding communities welcomed a very special guest to their commune on March 26th, 2013. The visit was the first of its kind by a dignitary of this magnitude in this region of Mali. Given the recent circumstances in which France has extended solidarity to Mali, Yeah, in his mayoral capacity, invited the Ambassador of France to Mali, Ambassador Christian Rouyer, to see Ouelessebougou and experience the many developments ongoing in the region. Ouelessebougou already shares a sister city relationship with Pontivy in France. Through it many great projects in the areas of water and education has become a reality for Ouelessebougou.

Ambassador Rouyer and the French delegation were received with great pomp as he and his delegation entered the city of Ouelessebougou. The air was thick with excitement as such an event has not seen for as long as many could remember. The people of Ouelessebougou and the surrounding villages turned out in droves to meet the French delegation.

Ambassador Rouyer in his speech was very appreciative to the people that came out to welcome him so warmly. In his speech he expressed gratitude to the people of Ouelessebougou and also their leader Yeah. He has been very appreciative of the leadership role that Yeah has played since last year’s coup. Regarding the situation in Mali, he said it was France’s obligation to help Mali. For during the Second World War, it was many Malians who paid the price of freedom with their life as they fought for France. Now it was France’s turn to help Mali combat terrorists. About governance in Mali, Ambassador Rouyer bluntly stressed that “Mali is not condemned to poverty, corruption and rebellion. It’s just a question of governance. It has all the capacity and potential to remain strong among the great nations of the world. In any case”, he added, “the majority of Malians aspire to a profound change. To do this, the Malian people must take their destiny in hand through a high turnout in elections to elect men and women to meet their aspirations.” This was amazing to hear as it was a reaffirmation of what Yeah has been saying all along. Mali’s many problems come not from the lack or inability of Malians, but rather from the leadership that has failed them.

Mayor Yeah Samaké then presented the Ambassador with a flag of Mali as a token of appreciation. This is the same flag that Yeah was presented with by Colonel Keba Sangare in Tombouctou last week. Colonel Sangare is a Red Beret and paratrooper commando and is the current commander over the 5th military region in the North. He had presented Yeah with the Malian flag as an appreciation for what Yeah has done for Mali. By giving the same flag to Ambassador Rouyer, Yeah was extending the military’s appreciation for the French forces now fighting on Mali’s behalf.

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After the speeches and an afternoon filled with cultural richness, Ambassador Rouyer and his delegation joined the dancing. Malians love music and love to dance. For Malians to see “white” people dancing is indeed unique, but also it warms their hearts, for to them it is an acceptance and embracing of the Malian culture. The visitors were not shy. They seemed to truly enjoy the Malian culture that is often hidden in the city life of Bamako. Many of these diplomats will not venture past the main cities because their duties usually keep them in these areas.

The evening ended on a high note as Yeah led the delegation to look at all the development projects and achievements Ouelessebougou enjoys today. Ouelessebougou enjoys the spot as one of the top 5 cities in terms of development and management. Many people in Ouelessebougou have not been as affected by the economic crisis in Mali as other villages and cities. This is apparent in the level of development projects present and the life style of the people of Ouelessebougou. As they toured the solar panel field, high school, the hospital and water tank, there was great, genuine, appreciation for how far Ouelessebougou has progressed in comparison to other areas.

The date that this took place is also a memorable date for Malians. March 26th marks the anniversary of the martyrs that lost their lives for democracy in Mali. On March 26th, 1991, after days of fighting, displeasure over the military dictator Moussa Traore’s government reached its peak. Many university students especially lost their lives as riots seized the streets of Bamako. I remember Yeah telling me, that back in those days, he was a student at ENSUP. He remembers going to join the movement against the dictator. However with the death toll mounting, his father came all the way to Bamako and pleaded with him not to join. Soon, the army lead by Lieutenant-colonel Amadou Toumani Touré (the same President who was overthrown last year), refused to fight the civilians and instead with a team of 18 other soldiers they arrested and overthrew President Moussa Traore. Malians have long celebrated those that gave their lives for the democracy movement. This year, this day holds more significance for it is a caution that those deaths should not continue to be in vain. That the democracy that they fought for should not be forgotten and that Mali must return to a government where the people are represented.

Ambassador Rouyer expressed his genuine gratitude for this memorable event. It comes at a time, when his tour of duty in Mali comes to an end. A Sarkozy appointee, he will return to France soon and he will be replaced by Gilles Huberson. He has been an outspoken advocate for the French military intervention and had been posted in Mali since 2011 and had cautioned about rebels in the North long before they took over.

This is a memorable event for Ouelessebougou as well. It comes at a time when Ouelessebougou is enjoying its own successes and growth. It is hoped this event will only bring more development opportunities to Ouelessebougou and the surrounding communities.

It is at times like this, that I pray that people will see the great work that Yeah does. Yeah doesn’t do it because he will personally gain. The successes of his people and his community are paramount to any political ambitions. However we realize that it is only through our political ambitions that we can spread the successes of Ouelessebougou to all of Mali.

I have read comments that try to downplay Yeah’s popularity. I would urge all these naysayers to actually venture past the walls of Bamako and gain a true perspective of the 80% population and what they say about Yeah Samaké. What Mali needs is a leader that is trustworthy and dependable. A leader that will guide Mali to greatness and Malians to a better standard of living. A leader that has actually done something for his community and given rather than taken away from Mali.

This all is possible. Two words: YEAH SAMAKE.

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Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Past Posts

 

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Aw Sambe Sambe!

As we drove back to Ouelessebougou this past weekend, we were looking forward to celebrating the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims. The traffic and the high number of cattle being sold were a tell tale sign of the upcoming celebration as Malians busied themselves preparing for this important event.

On our way to Ouelessebougou. All smiles.

he first thing that greeted us at our house in Ouelessebougou was a collapsed ceiling. The high amount of rain in the past month, while a welcome break for drought stricken Mali, had caused one room’s ceiling to fall in. That was not even the worst part. As the carpenter took the roof apart, the room filled with a swarm of bees. There had been a hive in that part of the roof. Within minutes, the buzzing of bees could be heard through an open window in the house. Being the eve of the celebration and the 100s of bees, the carpenter was unsure of whether he could fix the roof in time before nightfall. It looked like we would be returning to Bamako. However, a little insecticide took care of the bee problem and the carpenter Sunkalo was kind enough to come back and fix the roof even though it took him till 10 pm to do it. My driver Zhu and the boys that help me Dra and Nouman made a feast of the hives and honey. I guess one man’s cast offs is another man’s treasure. 🙂

Enjoying the honey

The next morning proved to be a beautiful one as millions of Malians woke up to celebrate the ending of Ramadan. The greeting of “I Sambe Sambe” and blessings accompanied by jovial teasing between family members could be heard ringing through the streets of Ouelessebougou. We celebrated the day with my brother-in-law Bei and his family. I had not seen them for a few months so it was nice to catch up with Momuso (Yeah’s second mom) and Tenemuso (Yeah’s aunt). I can always tell how much the kids and I are missed and loved by the look in Momuso’s face when she sees us at the compound gate. Regardless of the fact that she does not understand the kids, they have taken to her and her to them. The day was spent with greetings and visits to other family member’s compounds. The idea of family and its importance in Malian culture is so evident during feast times. Any money you give to one family member goes to the whole family. Also family member’s children are usually given money while all other children usually get just candy. Families celebrate by eating together and the day is one for visiting and paying your respects to different members, young and old. It is beautiful to be drenched in family and blessings and I have realized how much I have come to love and accept this new tradition.

Talking with Momuso( which means Grandma in Bambara) and Tenemuso( which means Aunt in Bambara)

Visiting Yeah’s uncle

Visiting Yeah’s third mother

Popsicles for the hot day

When we got home, there was a steady procession of young kids that came to pay their greetings and spurt out blessings in return for money and candy (almost like Halloween). Keanen and Carmen had a blast handing out the candy. The experience highlighted for me how much they have grown in just one year. Last year, they would not have heard about handing out candy. This year they were volunteering! Even fiery little Carmen! At Bei’s compound, they ran around like the other kids chasing chickens, eating brochette (meat on a stick) and exploring for treasures. The experience in Mali has taught them much. However, I think, because of how much they are blessed with, in their own childlike way they acknowledge the stark difference in the fortunes and are happy to share. May their kind hearts rub off on me so that I may learn to be as generous. Mali is teaching my children to remember how blessed they are and how they should try and share those blessings.

Handing candy out to the kids.

To my Malian brothers and sisters, I wish you: “Aw Sambe Sambe. ‘Ala ka san wɛrɛ yira na’ May next year be better than last; ‘Ala ka hɛrɛ caya’ May God increase your peace; ‘Ala ka batow mine’ May God answer your prayers’; ‘Ala ka kɛnɛya soro’ May you be healthy. Ala ka san caman yira an kene la (May God give us many years of health); Ala ka yaf’u ma (May they forgive us); Ala ka yafa an bema (May we be forgiven)

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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Join Yeah Samake at an event in UTAH!

Billy Hesterman, from the Daily Herald in Utah, did a story on the situation in Mali and what Yeah Samake is doing to make a difference. Click on the Link below or read the story posted in the Daily Herald in Utah.

BYU grad’s bid to be president of Mali on hold

The situation in Mali is bleak.

Just this year Mali’s military staged a coup on the national government because they claimed they were not receiving enough support to fight the al-Qaeda supported rebellion in the northern part of the west African country. More than 300,000 Malians have fled from their homes to avoid being ruled by the rebels and the country is losing foreign aid as it goes deeper into conflict.

The country was supposed to hold elections this year in which Brigham Young University graduate Yeah Samake was hoping to take over as the country’s president. But with a major conflict taking place and the government being overthrown by the military, that election has been put off until May 2013 so that the country can get its affairs in order.

Currently an interim government has been established and work is being done to strengthen the army that overthrew the government. But the slow-moving process is leaving people without food and sufficient hygiene supplies while they wait for the military to reclaim areas in the northern part of the country.

Samake though isn’t just waiting for the military to act or for his election to come around, he is trying to do something to bring help to his country. He is in the United States right now giving leaders an insider’s view of the situation. He has met with U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to brief him on the status of the country and also met with state department representatives and United Nations officials to inform them about his country’s struggles.

“There is significant human suffering going on right now in Mali. People are hungry. They can’t provide meat for their families. They sit and watch their kids and worry about providing daily meat to them. As a father and as a mother that hurts,” he said.

In addition to his briefings to leaders about the status of his country, he also has traveled to Utah to raise money to support the refugees that are suffering in Mali. On Monday he will be in Lehi to host an event that is aimed at raising money and awareness about his people’s situation.

“One of the reasons I am here is to help women and children in those situations,” Samake said. “I’ve been in the refugee camps. I’ve met with the people. I’ve talked with the Red Cross and UNHR and have tried to find the needs of the people. Truly food shortage is significant. But tents are lacking, as well as hygiene kits. And the children that are out of school, they also need a playground and toys to play with.”

So far local businesses have stepped forward to support Samake in his efforts. Nu Skin and Overstock.com have offered their support to him and Lehi resident Erin Merkley is organizing the Monday night event that is open to the public to help support those suffering in Mali. Those wishing to attend the event should contact Merkley at erinking875@yahoo.com.

“Utah can make unique contribution to this because of the connections and ties that so many Utahns have with Mali,” Samake said.

Samake remains hopeful for his country’s future. He also remains optimistic about his chance of becoming the country’s next president. He hopes his current efforts will show the Malians that he genuinely cares for his country and that he has the ability to get things done to get his country on the right track.

“People are looking at me. And this struggle is an opportunity for me to rise up as a leader for my people to see what I can do for the country,” he said.

Just more than 14 million people live in Mali. The annual salary of a skilled worker there is about $1,500. The nation is equal in land size to Texas and California combined.

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WANT TO MAKE DIFFERENCE? NOT DOING ANYTHING MONDAY, JULY 16TH? THEN COME JOIN YEAH IN UTAH AS HE SPEAKS ON HIS FIRST EXPERIENCE MEETING THE DISPLACED MALIAN REFUGEES THAT HAVE NOW FLED TO BURKINA FASO.

CAN’T COME? PLEASE TELL 10 FRIENDS IN UTAH ABOUT THIS EVENT. ALSO, IF YOU CAN, PLEASE DONATE ONLINE AT WWW.SAMAKE2012.COM TO SUPPORT THE REFUGEES.

 

Together I believe we can make a difference in the lives of the refugees that have been displaced. I pray that soon our Malian brothers and sisters will come home. I cannot imagine the conditions they are being subjected to. The shelter they have is no match for the hot, humid weather mixed with rain showers. The food cannot meet the constant pains of hunger. Imagine sitting 15-20 hours without doing anything, day in and day out. The supplies are running out soon and we need to help continue the aid till we can bring them home. This is not a life and I would never wish it even on my worse enemy.

Please help if you can today. Donate at http://www.samake2012.com

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Analyzing Mali’s Refugee Crisis

The one thing that is on my mind these days is the current growing Malian refugee situation. It is hard to watch your fellow man suffer. However, it is harder still when you know they had little to begin with and now everything, including their dignity, is being stripped from them. These people did nothing to deserve the conditions they have been subjected to.

On June 10th, Yeah was a man on a mission. His mission was to truly investigate the conditions of the camp and the state of the refugees living in them, so that he could get the international community and the Malian government more involved.

The camp at Soum

Yeah went to visit the Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. UNHCR (High Commission for Refugees UN), reports 180,060 refugees displaced all over Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. 65009 refugees are in Burkina Faso as of June 9th 2012. Of these numbers, almost 60% are children. About 38% are aged 18-59 and about 3% are 60 and older. The situation in these camps is getting more and more desperate. The flow of aid is unable to match the need. Yeah went with Malian journalist Yaya Samaké (not a relative) to document the situation and hear firsthand what the refugees and officials concerned with the crisis were saying.

Yeah met with the officials at the Mali Embassy in Burkina Faso. Mali Ambassador to Burkina, Seydou Traoré, admitted that they had not been to visit the Malian refugees situated in Burkina Faso. They told Yeah that the Malian government had not given any aid to be delivered to the refugees. This seems amazing to me that one’s own government does not care two cents as to the plight of their own people. Yeah was the first Malian from Mali to have visited the refugees in Burkina. What is the use of an embassy in Burkina Faso if it does not even serve its people?

Yeah also had the opportunity to meet with the country’s head of UNHCR, Fata Courouma, to better understand the needs of the camp. Yeah visited the Mentao, Damba and Djibo camps which is in the Soum province, 250 km from Burkina’s capital of Ouagadougou.  This area (as of May 18th 2012) according the UNHCR houses 14,506 individuals and 2,472 households.

With the UNHCR/CR-BKF representatives

The refugees in these areas hail mainly from the Tombouctou area.  Also among the refugees there are people who have served in the armed forces of Mali. Conditions are getting worse because of the rainy season coming in. The tents available are inadequate to deal with the rainy season. The number one need right now is protection from the elements. Even though food is being served, the rations do not meet the nutritional requirement and are lower than what a person would eat on a daily basis. Children that are displaced are not receiving an education. There are limited health services provided by the UNHCR and the CR-BKF. There are no words to describe the situation in these camps. It is unbelievable that it has come to this and that nothing is being done to help these individuals.

These individuals were so happy that a fellow Malian had finally come to hear what was happening to them in these camps. They expressed their gratitude to the Burkina officials and were frustrated with the Malian government because no one had come to help them. To them, it seemed like they had been forgotten by their own government. Yeah said to them, “I am not come to you on behalf of the Malian government. I came to see you as a brother wounded at the situation as you live. Your suffering is our suffering. Your expectations are not met, not because the government does not have the will, but because the country is almost stopped. Let us all pray for the speedy return of peace, so you can find your homeland. We will always be by your side”.  Yeah promised the camp leaders that he would do more to help them and raise awareness to the growing humanitarian situation.

Aghali Ag Hamidou, the teacher that returned to help

Yeah met one camp representative by the name of Aghali Ag Hamidou , who is from the Tombouctou region and was teaching in Bamako when the fighting broke. He left his job in Bamako and returned to Burkina Faso to help his tribe in the refugee camp. Another camp leader Almahil Ag Almouwak of the South camp said “I prefer the Malian tree to another tree”. Despite the harsh conditions the refugees are under, he was quick to say that Mali will always be their home. They want to return home. He cautioned that not all Tuaregs are rebels and vice versa and cautioned the government to stop treating them as such.

Our Malian brothers and sisters still hold on to the hope that Mali will be reunited and that they will then be able to return home and live in peace.  Speaking through Yeah, they call on the Malian authorities to step up to the plate and help them.

I am glad that Yeah took the opportunity to go see what the refugees have to deal with on a daily basis. The conditions are desperate and are worsening. Now I ask you, imagine not having enough to eat. Imagine being unable to sleep because your tent let water through or because you were simply too hungry. Imagine not knowing what to do with yourself all day, because there simply is nothing to do. Imagine being unable to take care of your family.  Imagine a life where death seems preferable to suffering. Conditions are terrible for the Malian refugees and they are about to get worse as we approach the rainy seasons from July to September.

Donate today to organizations like UNHCR that are on the ground and trying to make a dent in the growing numbers with Operation Mali. Or donate to Samake2012 and specify refugee in the comments field and the funds will go towards the collection Yeah is making for the refugees.

Every little bit helps. Will you help today?

Read Yaya Samake’s article here: FRENCH   TRANSLATED IN ENGLISH

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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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A year ago..

A year ago, do you remember what you were exactly doing? June 17th, 2011 is imprinted very well in my mind. This time last year, I was getting off a plane from the US to Mali for a journey that we believed would change our lives and the lives of the Malian people. We came with the firm belief that Yeah could be the change that Mali needed. We believed he could be a fresh start for a country that was stuck in a rut of bad leadership and corrupt practices. Who knew where we would be a year later. All we knew was the journey had begun and was bound to be exciting.

I remember a year ago, my kids would freak out about flies and bugs. Now, a year later they run after them and catch them. A year ago, they would stick very close to each other. Now, they are making other friends. A year ago, they spoke only English. Now their minds are grasping words and phrases in French and Bambara. Instead of having a family of four, they have added our guards, cook and chauffeur as family. My kids have indeed grown since we came last year.

Politically, Mali too has come a long way. Who knew a year ago that what was one of Africa’s most stable democracies would not only be overthrown but the country would be divided. Who knew that almost 200,000 innocents would be displaced and uprooted from a country they had called home for centuries. Who knew that a year of campaigning would ultimately come down to fighting to restore a democracy instead of extend it. Who knew?

Through the year we have campaigned hard in the 4 corners of Mali. We have seen different cultures and traditions all compiled into a Malian. Mali’s diversity contributes to its beauty and uniqueness and we have found ourselves blessed by it. We have had the opportunity to better know Yeah’s culture and his family. I think his family has accepted us even more as they have gotten to truly know us. We have gotten to understand the challenges that Mali faces. We have been blessed to meet medical missions and people that want to make a difference and come to Mali to do just that.

However, we have also experienced history be rewritten and found ourselves amidst a coup. We have ourselves fearing for our family’s safety and in the prayers of many people that feared for us. We are being given an opportunity to continue to make a difference.

Now that we are here a year later, our resolve is no less strong than the day we started. Sure we have a hit a roadblock, but is a journey worth remembering if there are no bumps? Our people must be brought home. Mali needs to become a democracy again, so the people’s voice may be heard again. But the most urgent dilemma is that the North needs to be rid of terrorists. Mali and all Malians will not and should not be compromised anymore.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Calm returns to the South while the North Struggles

This past week has passed in relative calm. The capital has almost gotten back to normal and one would find it hard to believe that a coup ever happened. The junta seems to have backed down completely and it’s probably the sweet deal that Sanogo got for himself that is keeping him quiet. However, I am quite surprised other members of the 500-strong junta have remained quiet, which lends to believe that either Sanogo was really the undisputable leader or the rest of the junta is getting something as well that has been undisclosed. Dioncounda remains in Paris and is supposed to return sometime this week. Life continues in much the same way as it did before. Prime Minister Diarra is attempting to fill his role as leader of the country. He has a great responsibility and many are relying on him to push Mali back on track. Yeah had met with him last week to discuss ideas and solutions on how to get Mali’s issues of leadership addressed as well as the issue in the North. Yeah’s take is that without strong leadership and a plan in the South of the country where the government is based, the North’s issues cannot be resolved.

Last week Yeah also gave an exclusive interview to the well known newspaper L’Independent in Mali where he talked of the struggles in Mali. He advised that Mali should not accept ECOWAS troops on Mali’s soil killing Mali’s people in the North. The solution has to be bred on Mali’s soil. Also Yeah encouraged ECOWAS to work with the political class in Mali. With the issue in the North, Yeah said that it is important to involve well off neighbors like Algeria and Mauritania because ECOWAS does not have the logistics and money to support troops despite them wanting to send troops to Mali. Also the stakes are higher for these countries because if rebels/terrorists overflow across their borders, it could cause instability for them. You can read the entire interview here in English: http://samake2012.com/updates/2012/05/interview-with-malian-newspaper-lindependent/#more-1296 or here in French: http://www.maliweb.net/news/interview/2012/05/28/article,69486.html

For the most part, people are just watching and waiting to see what the non-partisan Diarra will do. As I have said before, as long as their leaders don’t make things worse, Malians will put up with it. Diarra seems to be a calming force amidst the chaos. Malians seem to actually heed his words. For the first time yesterday on National TV, he spoke to Segou soldiers on the issue in the North of the country. “I have always said that I do not support war, because it’s war that makes a child an orphan and it’s war that makes a woman a widow. But if we love our country, we must liberate it even if it’s through war, a war that will end the daily wars. A war that will open the door for peace and security because without peace we cannot have security and without security, there will be no prosperity for this nation,” the PM said. He spoke with the most passion and conviction than I have ever seen him have. He talked of how Mali would not concede any part of its land to the rebels. Talk is all well and good. The thing that is most concerning is that Mali currently does not have an equipped army. The 7000-strong army that is reported by statistics websites like CIA may be correct as far as man count. However, the fact remains that the army lacked the arms before the coup and they continue to lack the arms. To send them into the North without the equipment would be like signing their death sentence. Apparently, Western countries, especially America had given ATT a lot of arms and vehicles to fight off the rebels before the coup. Rumor has it that ATT sold or gifted much of this to the rebels themselves when they initially came over to Mali after Libya’s Gaddhafi fell. There are no reports one way or the other to corroborate the story. Fact remains; the army is defenseless and has the manpower but not the equipment to fight.

What Mali needs immediately is strong leadership in the south that has a plan on how to re-unite the country and ultimately gain back the territories in the North. The Tuaregs are a minority and not even they are in control right now. Control seems to be shared between Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM and MNLA, all terrorist factions. So while the South seems to be gaining some control, the North is struggling with a terrorist problem and a refugee issue.

UNICEF despite increasing the aid it is providing has been warning about the sanitary conditions at the camps as well as the demand outweighing the supply. Ultimately, it will be the women and children that will bear the brunt of this refugee crisis. This refugee crisis started with the drought but has been intensified by the crisis in Mali. The problem has been overlooked long enough as the world’s attentions focused in South Bamako. In addition governments of Mauritania, Algeria, Senegal and Burkina Faso also have to deal with the refugees that fled across the border. One country’s crisis is becoming West Africa’s dilemma. This is just one big mess and it needs the international community to bring light to the growing humanitarian crisis. On the other hand there are terrorist groups operating freely in the North. They are restricting aid and making life very hard for residents by imposing Sharia law. There have also been reports that they are damaging World Heritage sites in Tombouctou that have been around for centuries. Imagine the destruction of the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal. As an Indian, I would be angered if anything happened to a symbol of my culture. Even the youth of the North have mobilized themselves, fed up with the lack of leadership from Bamako.

Finally, given ECOWAS’ failed track record to help bring civilian rule to Mali, ECOWAS has designated a new representative from the country of Benin. Let’s hope the new leadership will not bully Mali and cause more issues.

Strong leadership first will allow Mali to resolve this crisis and attempt to resolve the growing issue in the North. The question remains, will Prime Minister Diarra be that stabilizing force that Mali desperately needs and will ECOWAS finally include all political forces in Mali rather than enforcing their will.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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The rapidly changing political circus

This weekend has been long and relaxing. With Yeah being back in town, we decided to escape the busy political mess of Bamako for the quiet of Ouelessebougou, where Yeah is still the Mayor. The kids have been extremely excited that Yeah has returned, especially Carmen who now has her teasing partner back. However, life did not get less busy for Yeah as his mayoral duties reclaimed his attention.

The changing weather has aligned with the changing political scene. One day it could rain cats and dogs and the very next day the sun shines so brightly that the idea of rain seems unbelievable. However, the rain has brought some much-needed relief to drought stricken Mali and an early start to Mali’s rainy season.

But while the rain is much awaited and much-needed, the changing political scene has brought about controversial debate. On May 22nd, Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré was to step aside and make way for a transitional president as per the constitution of Mali. Many in Mali’s political circle were in favor of a strict observance of the 40-day rule by DioncoundaTraoré because for many he represented the “old guard” that had failed to protect Mali’s best interest and instead lined their own pockets.

Captain Sanogo congratulates Interim President Dioncounda at his investiture ceremony

For a few weeks, there had been much debate between ECOWAS and the junta. For all their claims of giving up power, the junta has been very much involved in Mali’s political scene, going as far as to arrest politicians they believed to be involved in “threats” against the country. It is interesting to note also that in the past few weeks, journalists have accused them of threat tactics like phone tapping and arresting an editor of a local newspaper. The national TV continues to depict a very strong junta involvement, where they can be seen at events representing the government. ECOWAS was never able to provide the junta with a sense of security that nothing would happen to them if they left power. This may explain the junta attempting to maintain a very strong role in the government.

The debate has now been ended at least temporarily. A new deal was cut yesterday between the junta and ECOWAS. The verdict is that Dioncounda will serve the entire transition as the President until elections are held next year. This makes him ineligible to run for office when elections are held. However, who’s to say this will be honored. His role as President will remain merely as a figure-head. The country will be run by the Prime Minister Cheick Diarra and the transitional government. The interesting thing to note is that Sanogo has come out of this deal better off. As part of the deal, he has been given all the privileges that a former head of state would have like a lifetime salary, a home, bodyguards, and amnesty from criminal proceedings. Given that political leaders have not been involved in the mediation process, should a democratically elected president uphold these agreements?

All the while Sanogo has been stating how the Malian people are first and the minute a deal gets offered that favors the junta and primarily himself, he jumps on it. It is to be noted that the junta was under extreme external pressure from countries in the European Union, the African Union and the US. However, a majority of the Malian people have been adamant that Dioncounda not serve the transitional period as President. He has hardly done anything in the 40 days he has been in power. The North remains as divided as ever and if anything, terrorist groups like AQIM and MUJWA are only making themselves comfortable. The refugee situation gets direr every day and the aid is only getting to the boundaries of these captured zones.

Already, angry protesters have taken to the streets as of Saturday, expressing their discontent with the decision made. Members belonging to groups like APMA and other youth groups have organized a sit in at the monument of independence. Their claim is that they will not leave until Dioncounda leaves power. Today demonstrations continue as people express their discontent. There have been reports of disorderly conduct like burning tires and an atmosphere similar to that after the coup first happened. Dioncounda has been reported to be killed in these protests but there is no verification in that story or the many others that are feeding fuel to the flame. The one thing that is certain is that for most at this stage of the game, it isn’t even about Dioncounda anymore. Many feel like ECOWAS bullied the junta and ultimately most Malians into doing what they wanted done. However some also feel like the junta has let them down by giving in, especially in exchange for favors.

Courtesy of AP reporter Baba Ahmed : Protesters march on the royal palace. Look at the throngs of people

Hopefully, ECOWAS and the international community will correct their mistake quickly for the solution to Mali’s issues needs to come from Mali, not the outside. Only then will true democracy be possible. If the solution is a forced solution where the people feel like Mali’s junta are being held hostage to a decision, then the support will be limited. ECOWAS get Mali’s politicians and leaders involved in our country decisions before it is too late!

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Empowering women

The weekend has passed in somewhat of a peaceful manner despite isolated, unverified reports of gunfire in central Bamako.The ECOWAS rhetoric has now moved from forcing troops on Mali to stating that troops will only be deployed if the Malian government gives the go ahead.

Yeah spent the last week in Salt Lake City trying to raise awareness and also continue to raise funds for the refugees and his campaign. Thank you to Adele Kammeyer and Susan Escalante for helping arrange a meet and greet and a cottage-style meeting respectively! This coming week he heads to New York, DC and Boston to do much of the same, especially meeting with Senators that oversee America’s foreign policy.

As Yeah remains busy in the US trying to meet with individuals and American leaders to raise awareness on the situation in Mali, his party PACP continues to make leaps and bounds here.

As turmoil embroils the lives of the basic citizen, PACP continues to do the things that might improve these citizen’s lives. Today saw such an opportunity. Bamba, a local businessman, spent some time with a group of women teaching them skills that they can then market. For example, he taught them about micro enterprise that would help finance businesses and also how to make fabric and peanut butter.

This kind of entrepreneurship is essential to helping Mali’s individuals make a living for themselves in a country where jobs are scarce and the likelihood of making more than the $1 is incredibly low. May many such meetings happen and may women finally get a break from the hardship that has become their lifestyle.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Mali’s dilemma

Mali is once again experiencing its moment of uncertainty caused by the issues of the last few days. On April 30th, loyalist forces clashed with the junta of Mali in an attempt to push out of power the junta. The attempt was less than successful and brought about more bloodshed than even the original mutiny. In the initial mutiny, there was a report (unverified) of 3 presidential guards dying but no harm to civilians. However the latest unrest brought about the death of civilians and injury to many more.

In addition to the sad loss of life, the deeper underlining issue is the difficulty it brings for an already struggling Mali. Mali now has an interim President, a Prime Minister and the transitional government of 24 individuals. It was interesting to note how during this past week of unrest, no word was heard from Diacounda, the interim President. In fact all discussions and addresses to the nation were conducted by the Prime Minister Diarra and the Ministers over the sectors affected by the unrest. It’s almost like Diacounda is sending a message that he does not intend on staying past his 40 days despite what most ECOWAS leaders are pushing for. Time only will tell. His term expires around May 20th. Any attempts on his part or the West African bloc ECOWAS to lengthen his term will only add to the unrest as doing so will cause a change to the constitution that calls for a 40 day term for the interim President.

The other issue that concerns me is the continuing growing refugee situation in the North. The first semblance of aid on a large scale is starting to be seen. It is the hope that as more and more organizations donate, the aid will reach its intended destination. The rebels in the North have continued their attack on basic rights and the three territories of Gao, Kidal and Tombouctou remain hostage. There has been little discussion on what will be done to regain these territories. The only talk I have heard of this is from ECOWAS that want to send in military troops and the junta that are adamantly refusing to allow foreign troops on Mali soil. While it is great that the ECOWAS team would like to send reinforcements, the concern remains about foreigners fighting on Mali soil. In addition, these troops are not up to the task of fighting in the desert. Plus what message does this encourage? This in essence encourages the same evil loop as foreign aid. Once you get into it and someone else controls the effort, there is no need for the population/leaders to themselves be held accountable. I am not saying that we don’t need the ECOWAS help. Logistics and weapons are two things that have been denied the Malian army. Our so called army is defenseless and sending them into war currently is as good as signing their death warrant. However, action needs to be taken soon. To let this fester is to allow the rapes and the imposition of Sharia to continue. To sit back and watch is to give permission to rebels to continue the reign of terror. Something must be done to free our people in the North.

There are meetings that are set to happen between the current leadership, the junta and ECOWAS to discuss how the transition will move forward. Discussions need to happen between all players in the crisis but it is important that the end goal of Mali’s sovereignty and peace not be compromised any further.

Yeah continues to work hard to increase the awareness of the basic freedoms that are being denied to our Malian brothers and sisters. He is currently in the US meeting with individuals and American leaders to raise awareness on the situation in Mali. Yeah said in a recent Voice to America interview: ““Mali needs its partners, but we need to make sure that this is a Malian solution. We cannot make this solution outside of Mali [because] that will be an imposition. We don’t want that and it is not going to be a lasting solution..The people of Mali need to come together and define the terms of how the country should be run during the transition.” (http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Path-to-Restoring-Malis-Democracy-Set-Back-Says-Politician-149761235.html)

Mali cannot afford for this to go wrong any further. Mali deserves its break now. Continue to keep Mali and all Malians embroiled in this crisis in your prayers.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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