Meridian Magazine has been closely following the presidential run of Yeah Samake in Mali. It is a remarkable story of courage and service.
Yeah Samake was born for such a time as this. Not only is he on track to be elected the next president of Mali at the July 7 election, but if his bid his successful, he will be the first LDS president of a nation and lead a country that badly needs the integrity and courage he offers.
You can sense it about some people. They were born for a particular purpose. Circumstances come together to hurl them into place because of the role they were meant to play, and when called for, they are suddenly gifted with the talents they need to step onto that world stage. It is as if all the stars aligned, as if the universe whirled together for this moment. As Latter-day Saints, we understand that God works in the lives of man-and Yeah Samake says he can feel the touch of God on him.
You may not even know where Mali is, but what happens there during this upcoming presidential election has the power to profoundly affect you. Yeah may be standing between all of us and an Africa where one nation after another topples under pressure from Islamic jihadists.
Mali, a fledgling democracy in western Africa, has been threatened by instability in the top 2/3 of the country by insurgent radical jihadists like al Qaeda whose aim is to seize the nation and turn it to sharia law. Intimidating the population with cruelties like amputations, kidnappings, and threats, they did a sharia-style execution on 98 of the Malian soldiers who had been sent to quiet the situation. The soldiers had been without ammunition or food because the Malian government itself was riddled with corruption and sent the soldiers off unprepared.
Incensed, a military captain led a coup against the government just 40 days before the presidential election that was to be held last April. They took over the palace, the national television and placed armed soldiers throughout the city as checkpoints. People were insecure, unsure of what to do, and Yeah sunk down on his own couch at home discouraged. He was so close to winning an election then, and suddenly his country was in shambles, rent from within and threatened by terrorists. His wife, Marissa, (whom he met at BYU), came in to him, gave him a little kick in the shins and said, “What are you going to do about this military coup? You have to do something. There will be no pity parties around here.”
She understood the important role Yeah had to play in bringing stability and happiness to his country that had long been fraught with problems. If Mali can grow to be a strong democracy, able to beat back jihadists, al Qaeda and others like them will be bested, and other African nations will be emboldened in their efforts to stand strong against terrorists. However, if Mali fell, it would be the jihadists who would be emboldened, rolling over the weak governments of Africa and toppling nations as they instituted sharia law.
But before the terrorists could be confronted, Mali’s own military had to give the government back to the people. At Marissa’s prodding, Yeah arose, put on his bullet-proof jacket, got a driver and a car and drove through his city’s dangerous streets, looking to find the leader of this military takeover.
Imagine a movie like this. Soldiers armed with guns everywhere, the city on high alert, checkpoints on key corners, but Yeah drove on finally making his way to the heavily-guarded compound where the military leader was. Soldiers, hyped up in their rebellion and well-armed, stopped him at the gate of the compound, pointing a gun in his face and asking if he had an appointment with the coup leader. “Yes, I do,” he said.
Yeah sat down across from the man who had just taken the government and said, “I know you love your country. I love this country. Give the government back to the people.”
It was a dramatic moment, and later when he made a plea to the military to return the government to the people, some caught the message on their iphones and sent it viral. Yeah became a symbol of standing for democracy.
In the months that followed he was sent as an emissary to many nations to plead Mali’s cause, asking that those who provide aid to the country sign off on only supporting a legitimate democracy. The military abandoned their hold on Mali.
Yeah says, “I see the Lord’s hand in every aspect of my life. More than 400 out of every 1000 children born in Mali die. I lived. Only 11% can read. I received the best education. No one else in my country has the gospel, but I came to America was taught and have been baptized.” He says that even the poverty that has riddled his family for generations was really a great preparation for him for the job that lies before him if he is elected to lead his country. He said he has a remarkable wife who was willing to leave a comfortable home and financial situation in Utah to return to Mali to run for mayor of Ouelessebougou where he earned $120 a month.
They left, Yeah says, because though the Samake family may need America, America doesn’t need them. Mali needed them.
He admits that the Lord has helped make even the military coup work together for his good and ultimately the good of his country. “When the coup happened,” he said, “most people around me said this coup happened for you. These are people with no connection to the Church, but they could see a purpose in one of the most tragic things that ever happened in our country.
“We found out that the elections that were to be held last April were rigged beforehand with a pre-selected candidate. That I survived my direct confrontation with the military coup leader I now understand was a miracle. The coup exposed the corruption that was present in so many candidates who looked so strong and weakened them in an incredible way.”
Yeah has continued to feel the Lord’s push. Not long ago, he made the journey to Timbuktu, the legendary city in Mali’s northern region where the jihadists have been rampaging. No candidate has gotten near the north, and especially without an armed escort, but Yeah asked his wife if he should go and she told him he must. For him it was “an unbelievable trip” to go up into the area where the jihadists had been so strong, but he wanted to express his gratitude to the military for their work there and he wanted to demonstrate that Mali was a secular democracy, not a theocracy run by sharia law.
In that way, he said, even his being the only Latter-day Saint in the country works for his good. Factions who hate each other can line up behind him as someone who embraces all religion.
“Why was I the only one to think of going to Timbuktu?” he asked. “How do things keep going so right again and again for me to be in this place?
“You would have to have a master strategy for things to work out so well and follow this incredible pattern, but I just open my heart to it and respond to the promptings.
What I will be able to accomplish is beyond a miracle.”
Yeah says he is not the same person he was when he began his run to be Mali’s president. Meeting with government leaders all over the world has tempered and tutored him, groomed him as nothing less difficult could. It has impacted his campaign.
“While other Malian political leaders are talking about politics, I am doing nation-building.” His campaign from the beginning was to transfer the power from a corrupt central government to local leaders who will serve their people. “Mali has wonderful natural resources,” he says. “It only takes faithful leaders who believe in serving others to transform those resources into a real opportunity for the people of Mali.”
Yeah is that kind of leader as he has already demonstrated in the city where he is mayor, bringing it from fourth from the bottom of the 703 cities in the country, to being in the top 10.
Even if you seem to have a destiny to change a nation, as Yeah feels he does, however, running for president of any nation, let alone one that has been frayed with division, is tough going. Sometimes he has almost felt to give up, but then he was watching a “Music and the Spoken Word” when they showed this big pile of logs that looked impossible to move. The narrator said that even when things look excruciatingly hard, the secret was to get started. Move one log at a time. Get started with the process.
He said sometimes it has seemed impossible to make this bid, especially as a non-Moslem in a country that is 95% Moslem. “It might have seemed great to get the $2 million I needed for this race immediately,” Yeah said, “but the Lord didn’t send it to me. He tested me. Several times I had reason just to walk away. There is no way I can win this election without money, but even though we had none, we just kept faithful, with the good of our country in our hearts. We just went piece by piece. Sometimes we are just hanging on by a rope.
“The Lord has a purpose. He knows what he wants me to do, so he is not throwing a lot of money at me. I have faith and doors are opening. Sometimes they are very small, but they take me forward.
“I can see that it is the very rough times that I have been through, the times I have had to cling to faith and prayer that are preparing me to be president of Mali, should I win,” he said. Being president where there is so much hard work to do will be much tougher than a campaign, but this campaign has expanded and taught me.
“The world,” he said, “cannot afford a country like Mali to fail or to become an Islamic nation, let alone become the base for Islamists to prepare their evil plans. If it does, it will affect people in Utah; it will affect people in New Zealand. We are all in the same boat. We all embrace democratic values and religious liberty. We will all gain something or lose something if we fail to liberate people out of religious bondage. The radical Islamists have vowed to institute violent sharia law, cutting people’s hands off for stealing a piece of bread. It will be remote to you today, but it will affect all of us one day, should we not take a stand where they are.
“The Lord knows exactly what the end will look like. We are all children of God and we know that the Lord’s work will have to go through these countries because every tongue and kindred will be taught the gospel. It is our responsibility to lend ourselves in the hands of the Lord to make sure that happens. We are all playing our part. He knows exactly what the end looks like. He knows that I have to go tell my story for something to happen and you have to tell yours. We are all following the same objective, making sure that we can make the work happen that we are here for.
“There is a domino effect. If Mali falls, Burkina falls next, and then goes Niger. The Islamists will erode religious liberties until one day you will them in your own back yard. We saw that in Boston. People become vulnerable to this because of a lack of hope. They can be transformed into walking bombs that we can’t control and can be seen anywhere. Mali can’t be the back base of violent Islamist militants. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we will all give our hands to make the world a peaceful place to live in. We need to grow our faith to understand that we are part of the solution and we should all do a little bit. We don’t have to take guns and shoot Islamists. We just have to take one child out of these dark thoughts by giving them hope.”
Yeah says, “I have already started the process to confront the Islamists. I am not waiting to be president to do that. As a leader, I will first and foremost bring people together. The people of Mali need to believe in and be inspired by a leader. I’m doing this for the sake of the greater good. I will not favor one city over another. All of the resources will be allocated so that every corner has hospitals, schools, access to water and access to energy. Mali will become a powerful nation. We will build our army so that it can rise to the challenges that we see today, modern, republican and professional, so that people will be proud to serve with a true and sincere sense of service.
“When you give hope to people they will not let destructive forces come among them. We can turn this situation around.”
Isn’t he afraid? “Oh, no,” he says. “With the Lord’s help, I am not afraid.”
“No education could prepare you to be the leader of a nation,” Yeah says, “but you do have to have a true and sincere sense of service. My heart is set on this people.”
Would you like to make a difference in the world? Donate to Yeah Samake’s campaign by going to samake2013.com or clicking here.