Foreign Policy

Romney Aside, Will a Mormon be President?

With support from Africa and the West, Mali looks to end its vicious civil war and once again become an ensign of democracy in Africa by resuming the postponed presidential elections of 2012. Despite Mali being 90% Muslim, one candidate, Yeah Samake, is a Mormon.

Samake was born in Ouelessebougou, a small village in Mali, to an illiterate farmer as the 8th child of 18.  Despite being poverty stricken, Samake’s father wanted all of his children to get an education. This decision was heavily criticized by others, but his father explained: “my Family will know hunger, but they will not know the darkness of illiteracy.”

Samake’s family knew hunger. They experienced many nights tying cords around their stomachs to escape the pains of hunger, yet all of them got their education. Samake explained: “I have brothers with doctoral degrees whose jobs range from agricultural engineering and education to high ranks in government.”

As a result of this sacrifice, Samake received a Bachelor’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at the EnSup in Bamako Mali (’85), and a Master’s degree in Public Policy in the United States at Brigham Young University (’04).

After earning his degree in the States he returned to Mali and began working for the Mali Rising Foundation, an organization that aims to improve children’s education (he helped build 15 schools).

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However, being unsatisfied by government corruption, he ran for mayor of his town in 2009 and defeated the 10-year incumbent by a landslide, winning 86% of the votes.

In two years as mayor, through a campaign of government transparency, he raised tax collection (or increased the amount of people who paid their taxes) from 10% to 68%. Through his work with the central government, a new hospital and public high school were built, a new water pump system was made, the largest solar panel field in West Africa was completed, and a 5 million FCFA (around 10 thousand USD) school refurbishing fund improved schools.

As a result of this enormous success as mayor he was elected vice president of Mali’s League of Mayors (704 Mayors Nationwide). Understanding his success as Mayor and wanting to improve his entire nation, he announced his candidacy for president in 2011.

But his candidacy and the Malian democracy were jeopardized by the government coup in March of 2012. For the past year, many, like Samake, have been fighting to reestablish peace. After France’s intervention last week, the end might be in sight and talk of presidential elections for July has begun.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done.  In Mali the literacy rate is 31.1%. The life expectancy is only 52 years old – 26 years less than the world average and almost half of all Malians are 15 years old or younger. In Mali, there is only 1 physician per 20,000 people and infant mortality is the third highest in the world.

“Change does not come from outside, sustainability does not come from outside,” explains Samake, “it should come from within.”

Regardless of the election outcome Mali will hopefully return to its democratic government, gain stability, and Malians will have a brighter hope for the future.

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