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By Patrice J. Pedersen
Christmas morning, millions of African children woke up hungry and cold with nothing under a tree or under their feet. But I’m not asking you to send clothing or food. I’m asking you to help root out the problem at its source.
I came to understand the problem four years ago in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union had just legalized abortion for the entire continent–overturning national and international laws–in one fell swoop. I was preparing an appeal to the African heads of state, detailing the illegitimacy of the process and illegality of the result. As I outlined my argument to a Nigerian friend, he kept shaking his head saying, “It doesn’t matter.” Finally he said, “You don’t get it. Not one of those presidents runs a legitimate government. Even though they want to nullify the protocol, they can’t do it on the basis of legitimacy because they are not legitimate.”
I was stunned. Laws didn’t matter. Fair processes didn’t matter. Might makes right in Africa.
Something else happened while I was in Addis. My colleague, who is the most enthusiastic missionary I have ever met, stopped doing missionary work. I have never been in a taxi with this man when he did not share his testimony of the restored gospel–no matter how short the trip. Addis was different, however. When he spoke with people it was like their mind was someplace else. We came to realize that they were so hungry they could think of little besides how they would obtain their next meal. As Bishop Burton recently explained in a story about President McKay, the people could not see how the gospel could provide them with a loaf of bread (1).
That series of events led me to a life crisis. What good is it to have laws which “maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society,” (2) if the law is not enforced? How can we ever truly help people if they are too hungry to hear the gospel? I lost my hope for Africa.
It was only when I met Yeah Samake that I got my hope back. He told me his story about growing up in Ouelessebougou, Mali, and obtaining an education in spite of painful hunger. He shared how his father had taught him the importance of honesty, hard work, and service, and how these values were further reinforced when he joined the LDS church. He explained how he had used these principles, and the knowledge he had gained in his BYU Masters in Public Policy program, to get elected as mayor of his municipality where he transformed his village from being ranked 699 out of 703 to the top ten in one year.
He really got my attention when he said that Mali is not poor in resources, but is poor in leadership. He told me he wanted to run for president of his country, and he asked me for help.
This is the solution to the problem–an honest leader who will enforce the rule of law and provide opportunities for development, not hand-outs. When Yeah turns Mali around like he turned around his municipality, the dictator’s club will lose their cover. Africa will no longer be considered an unsolvable problem, but rather the source of the problem–corrupt leaders–will be exposed. He will also show the 90% Muslim population of his country that they can trust Mormons.
Yeah can challenge the culture of corruption because nobody owns him. He has not been bought by foreign governments or corporations, nor has he embezzled any money from his citizens. This makes him wildly popular with the people of Mali, but at the same time puts him at a tremendous financial disadvantage. So he is counting on good people everywhere to help fill the gap. I believe he can win this election on $20 donations (a lot of $20 donations!) because “by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (3).
Will you please go to samake2012.com and give $20, and then forward this link to your friends and family and ask them to do the same? Your gift to Yeah’s campaign is a gift to the entire continent. This is real hope, based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and real change, based on true principles of sound government. More than aid, Africa needs a fair shake, and this is our chance.
1) Bishop Burton’s April 2011 conference talk
2) The Family, a Proclamation to the World
3) First Nephi 16:29
Patrice Pederson has worked in international pro-family advocacy for 13 years, and is currently managing Yeah Samake’s campaign for president of Mali.