A July 2022 article in Utah’s Deseret News highlights the unlikely and spectacular journey of Niankoro Yeah Samaké, from his youth in Mali, West Africa, born into a family of 17 siblings, to a master’s degree in public policy from Brigham Young University, and now, one of the top candidates for president of Mali. The election is scheduled for 2024, and as he works to educate his fellow Malian’s about why he will make a great leader for the emerging, resource-rich nation, he is busy finding other ways to help the world. Among his pursuits is managing a Utah-based nonprofit that builds schools and water pumps throughout Mali, as well as serving on the board for EyeCare4Kids.
Since 2004, Samaké has helped bring more than 50 schools to Mali, provided scholarships to Malian students to study abroad and organized multiple free medical and dental services. In 2009, while still living in Utah, Samaké ran for mayor of his hometown, Ouelessebougou, a municipal district in Mali consisting of 44 villages (55000+ people). He won the election and subsequently moved his family from Utah to Mali during a time of political turmoil and armed conflict. Under his leadership, he helped Ouelessebougou become one of the top 10 ranking communities in Mali, rising from 699 out of 704th at the beginning of his tenure. In 2011, Yeah was also elected vice president of the League of Mayors.
In 2015, he was called by Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to serve as Ambassador of the Republic of Mali to India and nine other Southeast Asian countries. As ambassador, he facilitated the first ever visit of the Indian Vice President to Mali, raising USD 500,000 in funding to help the Malian Minister of Culture protect the Timbuktu Manuscripts. He increased the number of Malian students attending university on scholarship in the Southeast Asian countries and initiated India’s commitment to fight terrorism in Mali. He resigned from his post in January 2018 to pursue a bid for the Presidency of Mali.
In addition to his love of family and Mali, what defines Samaké is his Christian faith, which makes him stand out in his predominantly Muslim nation.
From the Deseret News article, “Will the rest of Mali, a predominantly Muslim country facing the constant threat of Islamic extremists, accept a Christian president? Samaké thinks so.”
“‘For Yeah, his faith is everything,’ said Kirk Jowers, a longtime friend of Samaké and general counsel for [Mitt] Romney’s political action committee in 2012. ‘His conversion to the faith, then those connections and that vision, completely changed his life.’
“Not everyone shares that perspective. Prominent Malian clerics told Samaké during both of his previous campaigns that the country wasn’t ready for a non-Muslim head of state. ‘I don’t believe that,’ Samaké tells me. ‘I’ve never made my faith a secret. I own it. Malians want leadership,” Samaké says, “not any particular religion.’”
“Yeah is a man of principle, conviction and faith, and his focus is always on how he can help and uplift others, particularly his fellow Malians,” said Joseph Carbone, President, CEO, and founder of EyeCare4Kids. “People gather around him and are attracted to his leadership and kindness. As we work to expand the reach of EyeCare4Kids around the world, he will be critical to helping open doors and making sure our service impacts those who need it the most. We want the entire EyeCare4Kids community to understand the type of person Yeah is and how fortunate we are to have him on our board.”