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Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Yeah Samake, a leading presidential candidate in the African nation of Mali, will visit Claremont Graduate University (CGU) on Wednesday, March 7, to tell the astonishing story of his rise from poverty to public service.
Samake, a Mormon convert, is running for president in a North African country that is 90 percent Muslim. If elected, he would become the first Mormon head of state in the world. He would also lead a developing country that is locked in a battle against political corruption and al-Qaeda-backed religious extremism.
His talk, sponsored by the Mormon Studies program in CGU's School of Religion, is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Albrecht Auditorium, 925 N. Dartmouth Ave.
While the United States has been intrigued by the prospect of Mitt Romney becoming the first Mormon in the White House, Samake has garnered his own headlines as the "other Mormon candidate." Given his country's overwhelming Muslim majority and Samake’s modest upbringing, his rise may be even more compelling than that of his American counterpart.
Samake was raised in the small village of Ouelessebougou along with his 17 siblings. Determined to break the cycle of poverty that grips his country, he earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a second language.
When he completed his degree, the government could not afford to pay a teacher's salary, so he returned to Ouelessebougou and taught as a volunteer, supporting himself by translating for the US Peace Corps and non-governmental organizations. These experiences led him to study at Brigham Young University, where he obtained a master’s degree in public policy.
After graduation, Samake helped build 14 schools throughout Mali, providing educational opportunities for thousands of children. He also established partnerships between universities in the United States and Mali, and ran a program for doctors and dentists from the United States to train their counterparts in his home country.
In 2009, he ran for mayor of Ouelessebougou and was elected with 86 percent of the vote. When he took office the municipality was ranked 699 out of 703 in Mali in terms of economic development, transparency, and management, with a tax collection rate below 10 percent. In just one year, Ouelessebougou's tax collection rate increased to 68 percent, and its national ranking jumped into the top 10. Because of this success, Samake was elected vice-president of the Mali League of Mayors, an unprecedented honor for a first-term mayor.
In 2011, Samake publicly challenged the president of Mali to transfer power back to the mayors as stipulated in the constitution. This further increased his national profile, and led the Malian Youth Association to recruit him to run for president. His supporters formed the Party for Civic and Patriotic Action to support his candidacy, and dozens of mayors quit their party to join his before it officially launched.
Currently, Samake is considered to be a frontrunner for the presidency. Voting in the two-part presidential election in Mali begins on April 29.
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