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As many of you may know, there was a presidential election in Mali last year. Or, at least there would have been, if not for the coup that forced the incumbent president and all presidential candidates into hiding.

As per Wiki:

The 2012 Malian coup d'état began on 21 March, when mutinying Malian soldiers, displeased with the management of the Tuareg rebellion, attacked several locations in the capital Bamako, including the presidential palace, state television, and military barracks. The soldiers, who said they had formed the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State,[7] declared the following day that they had overthrown the government of Amadou Toumani Touré, forcing him into hiding. The coup was followed by "unanimous" international condemnation, harsh sanctions by Mali's neighbors, and the swift loss of northern Mali to Tuareg forces, leading Reuters to describe the coup as "a spectacular own-goal".[8] On 6 April, the junta agreed with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) negotiators that they would step down from power in return for the end of sanctions, giving power to a transitional government led by parliament speaker Dioncounda Traoré. In the following days, both Touré and coup leader Amadou Sanogo formally resigned;[9] however, as of 16 May, the junta was still "widely thought to have maintained overall control".[10]
From most reports, a rough semblance of democracy has returned to Mali (with coup leader Captain Sanogo looming over the process), and the Malian presidental election is set to be held on May 7, 2013. So here re-enters Yeah Samake.

Yeah Samake (yes, his first name is "Yeah") is a guy with an unusual (and perhaps impressive) pedigree. Wikipedia and his own campaign site both agree on this basic facts: Born in 1969 in Ouéléssébougou, Mali, Yeah was the 8th of 18 (!) children, and according to Samake, his family was so poor and hungry that his parents would tie rags around their waists to quiet their stomachs when they had nothing to eat. Somehow, Samake and his father managed to save up enough for him to graduate from high school (a BYU article claims that all of the children have diplomas and degrees), and Samake eventually became an unpaid teacher and guide for the Peace Corps. He eventually came into contact with members of the Ouéléssébougou-Utah Alliance, an organization of Utahns who wanted to improve educational, health, and other conditions in Mali. This brought him in contact with a Mormon couple from Colorado, Jeff and Gretchen Winston, who were impressed by Samaké’s work ethic and his devotion to his community.

According to Slate, the Winston couple sponsored Yeah to come to the US and earn a Masters in public policy at Brigham Young University in Utah. During that time, he served as president of the Black Student Union (no, I didn't know they had one of those either), and met his wife Marissa Coutinho, a BYU undergraduate from India. By the time they graduated, Yeah and his wife considered Utah a second home, and liked the family-oriented doctrines of the LDS Church, so they converted to Mormonism and settled in Utah for a while. After his graduation in 2000, Yeah became president and founder of Mali Rising, a nonprofit dedicated to building schools and training teachers in Mali, eventually moving back to Mali. Supposedly, Yeah Samake and his family are the only Mormons currently in Mali besides charity workers.

 In 2009, Yeah successfully ran for mayor of the Ouéléssébougou region, which was then one of the poorest places in Mali. According to Yeah, when he started, residents of the region didn't trust the government (it was ranked 699 out of 703 communities in Mali for governmental management and transparency), and only 10% of the population paid their taxes. In two years, he turned things around so well that the region/city now ranks in the top 10 in the country, with a tax collection rate of 68 percent. And this has spurred a construction boom, with new schools and health clinics springing up throughout the region (again, according to Slate).

One interesting innovation that Yeah created as Mayor is an "elder's quorum" (that very title is incredibly LDS-themed), a group made up of the two most trusted men (or women) in each village in the region, who evaluate how tax money is being gathered and spent.

In late 2011, he declared that he would be a candidate for the 2012 elections, and created a political party to help faciliate that. What's interesting is that he also declared that he would take very few donations from those in Mali, as those who donate usually expect a job or a position of power in the candidates administration (so it's more like bribery than anything else). Instead, he's gone back and forth between Mali and the United States (mostly Utah), raising money in Utah (much of it from BYU alumni) and building up name recognition in Mali. He's called out other candidates on corruption issues, and claims they aren't transparent or honest.

Amazingly, Yeah Samake confronted the coup leader at one point, and criticized the guy to his face. So he clearly has no fear of death.

Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be well-known or have much of a media presence in Mali, but he's well-known enough that he's seen as a viable candidate (at least by US news sources), even if he's a bit cocky in declaring himself the "front-runner".

I honestly think that, despite overly favorable coverage, he seems to be a decent guy, a competent mayor, and some who has a different idea for Mali beyond the coup leaders or the guys who have been hanging around for a while. It seems like he'd have a pro-US view, but that can be good and bad, of course. And the fact that a person of my faith (that isn't Mitt freaking Romney) has a decent chance at the presidency of a country (and a country like Mali at that) is amazing to me. I dearly hope that Mr. Samake is successful in his run for president, and even if not, he'll show that you can be a Mormon presidential candidate without being a rich white ponce like Mitt Romney.

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