AMMON, Idaho - The west African nation of Mali, although a poor country is known for its democratic model in Africa.
Mali was supposed to hold a presidential election last year, but after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in Lybia, a flood of weapons was sent into Mali.
Islamic extremists looted the presidential palace, arrested ministers and declared they had seized power.
Now, even with the rebel groups still active in parts of the country, Mali is planning to hold their presidential election this year. One of the candidates, a mormon who studied at Bringham Young University is one of the top candidates.
Yeah Samake stopped by Sand Creek Middle school in Ammon Thursday to speak with students about life in Mali and touch upon the change he hopes to bring to a country in the hands of extremists.
Students at Sandcreek Middle School got a visit from one of Mali's most modern presidential hopefuls, Yeah Samake.
After learning a few words in his native Bambarra, the students listened to the history of Mali and were surprised by the life of Malian children.
"The kids, they have to walk a long time to get to school. They probably work a lot they work hard they probably get one, maybe no meals a day," said Chris, a seventh grader at Sandcreek Middle School.
The 42-year-old Samake is one of 18 children who grew up in deep poverty in the southern Mali municipality of Ouelessebougou.
His father taught him that education was the key to overcoming poverty. He earned his bachelors in Mali and his masters in public policy at Bringham Young University.
"Democratic principals bring a country from poverty to abundance," said Samake.
After graduating, Samake returned to Ouelessebougou where he is now mayor of 44 villages. He transformed the local government into an open, transparent model.
"Local leaders are the main actors in the development process. We have to make sure how to empower local leadership. This is a principal that helps bring the potential of every citizen into the process of developing one's country," said Samake.
As the only Mormon family in his country, Samake doesn't capitalize on religion in his campaign, but it does play a part in how he governs.
"I implemented something that Mormons will relate to, the elder's quorum. It is unique to my city to make sure that communication flows well that accountability exists," said Samake.
Samake said government that empowers local leaders is key to making sure that locals are service providers, not the Islamic extremists. He admits taking the successes he's had as a mayor and transitioning those governing principals to an entire country will not be easy.
"Extremism came because of lack of implementation of those simple principals. If we let that continue we will miss the Mali moment," said Samake.
The Mali moment is one Samake touches on often. He said now is the time for the country to change and that he is the man to bring that change to Mali.
An official date for the election has not been set, but there is a deadline the international community has set for July, 31. http://samake2013.com/