Editor’s Note: Yeah Samake’s story from a starving, impoverished Muslim child to becoming a Latter-day Saint running for Mali’s president is told in an earlier article found here.
Mitt Romney isn’t the only LDS candidate for a nation’s president that has run into trouble lately. Last March, only days from what should have been the election and with prospects looking very bright for winning, Yeah Samake, candidate for the president of Mali, watched with horror as a military junta took over his nation, a fledgling democracy in Africa.
In America for a brief visit, Yeah stopped by our home because he had a message he wanted to deliver to Mitt Romney, and all who supported him, but the story he told us about what he lived through in Mali during the coup bristles with guns and courage and gives this presidential candidate’s message a greater power, so we’ll deliver Yeah’s message to Mitt in a moment.
Mali takes up a large swathe of north western Africa, about the size of Arizona, Texas and Florida together. In the expansive and arid north, the people suffer from lack of food and extreme poverty, which made them vulnerable in 2003 for al Qaeda forces to begin to infiltrate with their deadly force and ideas, making a violent stronghold in the area. Malians living there learned what it was to live in terror, with powerful thugs enforcing their will by amputating limbs or stoning dissenters to death. It has become a nest of illegal and violent activity, and, like a rattlesnake under a rock, a hidden place to build to strike Western interests.
Malian soldiers were trying without enough support from the government to manage this treacherous situation in the north, but on January 17th, 98 soldiers were ambushed, their arms confiscated, hands tied behind their backs and then they were executed by having their throats slit.
Agonized by the situation, some soldiers who escaped, felt that the nation’s president had betrayed the military with sloppy, incompetent, corrupt leadership. To make things worse they had been fighting without adequate provisions, and when the minister of defense went to pacify them, he mismanaged the conversation. Bad went to worse and the military arose to overthrow the government in a coup.
Yeah was in a hotel across the street when the soldiers, with guns firing, took over the national television office. The Malian president had already fled the presidential palace for the American embassy when the rowdy and deadly soldiers blasted their way in there and took over the government.
Everywhere was confusion and chaos, strong-arming and violence as people hid in their homes, crouching for safety. “Suddenly the country was upside down,” Yeah said. “I came into my living room and, feeling depressed, laid down on the couch while the world was falling apart.
“Just then my wife, Marissa, came to me and kicked me. She said, Get out of my living room. This is no pity party. You need to get out and do something.’
“The soldiers were out in the street shooting, but she said, You and I have sacrificed everything to come back to Mali from America to serve your people. When times are this hard, leaders arise. You go out and do something.'”
Yeah said, “I took my bullet-proof jacket and put it on. Together we kneeled down and prayed and put on the whole armor of God. We prayed for my safety and we prayed for my country (Marissa is from India).”
What Yeah did next changed the course of his entire country, thanks to Marissa’s prodding. When he walked into the street, no leaders were there. Nobody but soldiers were there. They were all hiding. “I was worried. I was also determined. I was not sure what was going to happen.”
Soldiers were shooting everywhere and because a curfew was now imposed, checkpoints threatened at every corner. He got his driver and some party leaders and they began heading through the streets, resolved, that come what may, they would find the mutinous officer who led the overthrow and talk with him.
Soldiers, carrying guns, chased them through the streets, a lone automobile in a world with an imposed curfew. They went through five checkpoints where guns were pointed at their faces, and each time squeaked through. A tense Yeah knew that at any moment he could be shot.
Finally, they arrived at the barracks where the junta was headquartered. “I walked into the barracks amidst a forest of soldiers, hundreds of them, all with guns. They asked if I had an appointment and I said, Yes, I do.’ Someone recognized him as a Malian presidential candidate and the mayor of Ouelessebougou, and then kept him waiting, waiting for an excruciatingly long time, like you’d see in a movie while a petty tyrant exercised his power. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said Yeah.
When his time to meet the junta leader came, Yeah walked in and said, “Captain, I have been waiting for you. I have come to ask you to give the power back to the civilians immediately.
The captain asked, “Why would I do that?”
Yeah answered, “I know you love your country. I love my country, too. I have sacrificed to be here. You cannot just take the power from the people. You would be a hero if you gave the power back to the civilian authority.”
He asked, “How?” Yeah answered, “I don’t know. You figure that out. But if there’s anything I can do, you can count on my help on behalf of this country.’
He was impressed that Yeah would come to see him right after the coup. The junta leader felt a mutual respect between them and asked, “Would you like to talk on national television?”
“This officer thought I would be in support of him,” Yeah said, “but instead I got on camera for national television, condemned the coup and made the plea for the military to turn the government back over to the civilians.” He urged citizens to send the message out, every way they could, including social media.
Of course, the military leader was angry about that and refused to run the spot, but those with Yeah filmed it on their iphones and then placed it on youtube, facebook, and all sorts of social media where it quickly traveled throughout Mali and the international community, giving people strength for resistance.
Yeah organized other leaders in Mali, including those who had been running with him for president, into the ADPS or Alliance for Democratic Patriotspeople who were willing to fight for democracy so that they could be an alternate to military power.
The ADP put together proposals for what needed to happen next to return the government to civilian power and worked to bring pressure on the junta to return the society to constitutional order, appealing to the international community for help.
The military junta had badly miscalculated. Since the international community supplies 40% of Mali’s economy, they could not stand with international disapproval, and by April 6, after terrorizing the population, the military leaders gave the government back to the civilians. The old president who had so antagonized them had fled to Senegal and a new prime minister was appointed as a transitional leader.
The election was off for at least a year, the Malian military settled down, but the al Qaeda presence in the north continues to seethe. Though he was still a presidential candidate, Yeah suddenly found himself as the prime minister’s special envoy, traveling the world to seek help from the international community to confront the challenge.
The burgeoning al Qaeda stronghold is not just a problem for Mali, but serves as a breeding ground of Islamist power to attack western interests. For a time Yeah’s job has been to bring the attention of the international community to Mali’s crisis, which is, in fact the world’s crisis.
To arm themselves, the al Qaeda operatives in the north traffic in drugs, kidnap westerners for ransom and other dark and violent money-grabbing schemes. They prey upon the dissatisfaction of some of the northern tribes who want to separate themselves from Mali for political reasons. Heavy arms have been smuggled across the border from Libya with the unrest there. The al Qaeda numbers swell in northern Mali as terrorists from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia infiltrate to build their power.
To make matters worse, since the military coup, the Malian military has lost its chain of command, its order and ability to respond to the entrenching extremism. “Mali should have worked a long time ago with the international community to fight al Qaeda,” said Yeah. “We had been warned that the situation would erode and that’s just what has happened.”
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the north is growing worse by the day as people are running out of food. Fear and desperation plague them.
This is the country that Yeah Samake hopes to lead as president, inheriting a set of problems that are complex and difficult. Somehow, he is no more daunted by them than he was to walk through the assembly of soldiers with guns threatening him to meet the captain who staged the coup.
“I look forward to the opportunity to serve as president, because I know more than anyone I could solve this problem in a way that would be a lasting solution because I would act in the best interests of the people. I’m not going into this for self-aggrandizement or personal interest. I want to serve and I want to make a big difference in Mali.
“It has always been my position that as long as corrupt leaders are given the opportunity to rule over Mali we are not safe from what happened. It could happen again. It is not a religious conflict. It is not an ethnic conflict. It is a leadership crisis.
“If people are left to themselves, if their basic needs are not met, they become vulnerable to violent Islamists. If they have hope for a brighter future, they do not engage in anything that would compromise their own future.
“We need leaders who will use the resources efficiently, who will inspire the people. Leadership has to be responsive to the people. If you do not live correct principles yourself, you cannot inspire others to live correct principles.”
Though Malian are primarily Muslims, Yeah says that they are a tolerant people. They respect all religions. They love one another. To have a Christian, like him, become president would tell the whole world that despite the loud noise the minority is making about turning Mali into an Islamic state, the reality is different.
Thus, Yeah Samake sees his campaign for president as not only a statement about the importance of integrity and service, but a symbol for those who would transform Mali into an Islamist stronghold. “Electing a Christian in a country where a minority are shouting for sharia law is a strong statement.”
Still the journey is hard. He and Marissa gave up a comfortable way of life and a decent salary in Utah to return to the discomforts of Mali to run for office. Though life seems peaceful on a daily basis in Mali, this brewing al Qaeda problem in the north could threaten a Christian running for office. On the most everyday level, he has been gone so much this past year that he misses his children. Skyping with them from the Middle East isn’t the same as tucking them in bed at night.
Of his run for president Yeah said, “A victory is not just an election. A victory is to make Mali a model of change, of success. What Mali needs is an awakening, but I cannot do it without help.”
Yeah Samake is a man with a mission and part of his mission this week was to deliver a message to Mitt Romney.
A Message for Mitt Romney
Yeah, a presidential candidate who knows well the vicissitudes of that difficult role, wants to thank Mitt Romney. “In the first two minutes of the third debate on Oct. 23, he mentioned our plight in Mali twice. It meant that Mali could not be ignored any longer because Gov. Romney brought it to attention. The very next day, Oct. 24, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta made a statement about the situation in Mali.”
Yeah said that was no coincidence. “We would like to see more action from the United States, and this is not only for the sake of Mali, but for the sake of America’s national security interests. What happened in Mali is both a foreign policy and intelligence failure on the part of the Obama administration.” This burgeoning al Qaeda has been swept under the carpet.
Yeah said, “Instead of condemning al Qaeda and supporting Mali with specific actions, the Obama administration has wanted elections in Mali first and the return to constitutional order as a condition of support. There shouldn’t be any condition for support of democracy, especially when the national security interest of America is at stake.
“To waiver in the face of violent Islamism and not have a clear position supporting democracy did not send a good message to these al Qaeda people.
“We have been trying to get the international community’s attention, but in one night with Gov. Romney mentioning Mali, suddenly millions of people were aware of our situation. I want to thank Governor Romney for pointing to this failure in Pres. Obama’s foreign policy.”
Yeah also said, “My support for Romney is not about policies, but is based on what his presidency would have meant for my faith. In 2008 I supported Obama for the simple purpose that his presidency would bring a complete change to how my race is seen. Quite frankly, for the last four years, a black man walking the streets of China or Jerusalem or Dubai is no longer the same as before.
“Even though Romney hadn’t scored a win in the presidency, he scored a victory in bringing my faith to millions of people at home and abroad. They will never see us quite the same again.
“Latter-day Saints would understand what it would mean to have a priesthood holder in the highest office of any country in the world, let alone the most powerful one. Yes, we missed our opportunity this time, but I do believe Romney still has the opportunity to do something larger than what a president can accomplish right now. That is to connect the so-divided America.
“The stakes are very high in America today. Both sides are confused and overwhelmed as to how to bring America together. Romney could be an instrument to do just that. That’s the message in my heart and I wanted to share that with my fellow Mormons.”
To win the presidency of Mali, Yeah Samake needs campaign funds. If you have donated in the past for a Latter-day Saint to become president, you may want to do it againonly this time for Yeah Samake whose election will not only help Mali but confront an Islamist problem in northern Mali. Go here to donate. http://samake2012.com/