Team Samaké headed by Yeah left at 4 am in the morning so they could make it to a meeting in Sikasso, which is 375km or a 6-hour drive away. The next campaign area would be an essential one for the Samake2012 campaign.
Sikasso is a picturesque city in the south of Mali and the capital of the Sikasso Region. It borders Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. The reason this region is essential is because of its size. It is the second largest electoral region with a population of about 190,000. Yeah was traveling to Sikasso to meet with an essential group whose support or lack there of could bring either success or failure to his campaign. This group is none other than the mayors and commune leaders of Sikasso.
One of Yeah’s most basic policies is decentralization—the return of power from the central to local governments by empowering local governments to take a more proactive stance in running their day-to-day affairs. You would think that the minute a mayor heard decentralization, they would immediately be on aboard given that more power would rest with the Mayors office than before. However the biggest change would be accountability. At the local level, these leaders would have to be accountable to the constituents of their communes. It is easier to cheat someone when you cannot see their face. But when you are literally sharing the same bread, it is not that easy. To truly want to serve and empower one’s people, mayors need to embrace decentralization.
When Yeah initially started to speak, the skepticism hung around the room like a wet blanket. However the power of seeing something can never compare with words. The minute the video that shows his story ended, his audience was sold.
Here was a man who had never taken a dime of any Malian’s money. Rather, he had given much back. The schools he has built through generous donors in America would not only affect this generation but generations to come. The medical and dental expeditions that had come would help extend someone’s life and in some cases save lives. The school supplies that he encouraged Americans to donate would allow children to each experience if only for a little while the joy of having their own supplies. Having clean running water in Ouelessebougou would help reduce diseases. A solar panel would help produce electricity to run a commune. Computers would infuse a fresh life of technology into classrooms. What these mayors saw was what Yeah could do given a few resources. Now imagine, if he was able to turn a country rich in resources to a country that utilized its resources to benefit its people and not its leader’s pockets.
The vision Yeah emphasized in French was: « Ma mission est d’assurer un Mali décentralisé pour une école de qualité, une meilleure gestion des ressources humaines et financières, une meilleure responsabilisation des décideurs, et la promotion de l’entreprenariat ». (My mission is to provide a decentralized Mali to ensure higher quality of schools, better management of human resources and financial resources, better accountability of decision makers, and promoting entrepreneurship). The excitement was palatable as Mayors got up to shake his hand. I’m not saying every mayor in that room was converted, but we made enough of a stir that mayors would at least question the current policies that hindered growth and prosperity in their communes. The outcome of this first huge meeting was a large group of mayors from Koutiala (one of the regions) approached Yeah and told him they would hold a rally and invite the surrounding communes to come and hear his message. This was only the beginning of an amazing day.
The next essential meeting was held at the Hotel Maissa. Here the target group was a youth leadership group that was first created when PACP was announced. They were extremely excited to finally meet the candidate on whose behalf they had been campaigning for so long. Yeah spoke with quiet command. He spoke of his dream for a safe and stable Mali. He spoke about the needs of this youth group to have a stable education and job when they graduate. He gave them a hope that their time had come. It was time for their needs to be brought to the forefront. Education or the lack there of is a big issue in Mali today. For the past 6 months, the high schools and universities have been shut over a teacher’s strike. The government had been unable to fix the issue in a timely and just manner to all parties. How can a government like this function? 50 more years of inadequacy will continue if Malian youth do not fight for what they deserve. They deserve a better education, they deserve a better job, and they deserve a better future for themselves and their families. And it’s not too much to ask. The education system needs to be revamped. More than a 1000 more schools need to be built and teachers trained. Yeah Samaké is the man for the job!
One of things that Yeah has reiterated time and again is that “Mali is not a poor country; rather it has been made poor by the actions of its leaders”. On the way back, the team was taken aback by the serene beauty of Sikasso. It is hard not to fall in love with the serenity and uncomplicated way of life that these people have. In some places, you can even see the red brick wall (tata) that dates back to the French invasion. This region without a doubt could join the ranks of Timbuktu in terms of tourism. Sikasso also has one of the biggest networks of tunnels that are man-made. These tunnels were used by locals as hiding places during the war but now serve as a place to perform rituals. The view was breathtaking and indescribable.
The next interesting scene is closely related to one of Mali’s exports. Mali is the third biggest producer of gold in Africa. Lo and behold, what do we find as we are driving back? Gold Panning! We ran into a huge crowd of men, women and children surrounding a few extremely deep holes in the ground as they brought up bucket after bucket to pan for gold. This was awesome to watch!
The trip to Sikasso was an eye opener, not only in terms of support but also a wake up call to a different way of life. We think life is difficult if we are missing a TV or our Iphone. Malians are nor asking for much. What they are asking for is a good education, a stable healthcare system, jobs when they graduate and a fair chance to make a decent life for themselves. I truly believe that Yeah is the man for the job. This country needs someone who will put their interests first before their own, someone who will not embezzle from the country and someone whose expertise lies in education in developing countries. Please help us make these things a possibility by supporting us at www.samake2012.com. Together, let’s celebrate the country Mali can become under good leadership. Vive Mali!
(Thank you to the Arringtons for the pictures and Cole & the Goodine group ( Travis and Joe) for their Midas touch on this video.)