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BYU grad a presidential contender in Mali

By Billy Hesterman - Daily Herald - | Dec 9, 2011

While LDS Church members Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney are running for president of the United States, another LDS Church member will be seeking the office of president in Mali in 2012.

His name is Yeah Samake. He is seeking the top political office of the landlocked western Africa country because he truly believes in the principles of democracy. He believes if the power is given to the people, they will rise up and make Mali a strong country. Samake explained that the basic principles of integrity and a sense of service are what he hopes to instill in his people if they elect him to be their president next year.

“Local participation is key,” he said. “We as leaders do not have the capacity to make Mali succeed, we have the capacity and authority to facilitate and bring the potential out of the people.”

His eyes lit up as he discussed the potential that he sees for his country because he has seen these same principles he relies on work in the town where he is the mayor.

Samake’s town was failing when he took over. Fewer than 10 percent of the residents were paying taxes because they lost faith in their government leaders. Under his leadership his city went from one of the bottom five ranked cities in Mali, in terms of economic development, transparency of government and management, to one of the top in the country. Samake attributes that dramatic change in his city to his plan to empower his people.

“Power cannot remain in just a central government,” Samake said. “Democracy is truly furthered through decentralization.”

The country is considered democratic, he said, but it doesn’t function as a democracy; government officials are self-serving with taxpayer dollars.

When asked if his people were ready and able to handle the responsibilities and power that come from a democracy, Samake dismissed the question by simply stating it was not his place to say because it was his people’s opportunity to find out if they can handle the power.

“That is their god-attributed right. Whether we think they can or not, they should be given the power, it belongs to them. We should not usurp that, we should not take it away from them,” he said.

Samake also has confidence that his country can succeed in a world of stagnating economies and endless amounts of governmental debt. He noted that the country is Africa’s second largest producer of gold and the fifth largest producer of cotton in the world. He argued that Mali is in a great position to succeed under the right leadership.

“We should not need foreign aid, we should be self-sufficient now,” Samake said.

Unlike Romney and Huntsman, Samake said his religion hasn’t become a topic of discussion among his voters. He pointed out that he was elected mayor by 86 percent in a town that is 90 percent Muslim. He said religion was not a big divider in Mali.

“I would say, there is a high level of tolerance when it comes to religion,” he said.

Samake stated he is one of the front-runners in the upcoming election. He is in Utah bringing in other elected officials from his country to observe how Utah’s local governments operate. He will be speaking Utah Valley University on Monday night.

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