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Alfousseni Sidibe is hoping to be part of change in his native Mali even as he visited with friends in Canby

HERALD PHOTO: JOHN BAKER - Alfousseni Sidibe was in Canby recently to visit friends, but has headed home to help his candidate win the presidency of Mali.From the food carts of Portland to the cold waters of the Oregon Coast, Alfousseni Sidibe enjoyed a nice slice of life's first during a recent visit to Canby.

And why not, there's plenty to see and experience for a young man hoping to shape his country's fortunes in his native country of Mali. A guest of Deni and Bob Cooperrider, Sidibe got to spend several days in the area exploring and discovering. It was, he said, an enjoyable experience.

"I was impressed by the different places we visited," he said. "I was impressed with Powell's Books, saw the food carts (where he enjoyed a kabob), visited Oregon State University and the Rose Garden."

"What amazed me most was the Pet Smart," he added. "That was my very first time seeing something like that. It was really impressive."

But Sidibe was no mere tourist visiting friends in Oregon. He is involved in the politics of his native land, and is the executive assistant for one of its presidential candidates: Yeah Samake. A graduate of Brigham Young University, Samake and his retinue first journeyed to Utah to speak at a forum. With that mission accomplished, Sidibe decided to stay a little while longer to visit with the Cooperriders in Canby.

They had met in 2012 when Sidibe served as an interpreter for Bob when he was in Mali. The friendship took root and blossomed into last week's visit.

"Today we are going to see the ocean, they are going to fly me in their airplane – I've never seen the ocean. This will be my first time," Sidibe said last week. "When I was at Yellowstone, that was my first time to touch snow."

While enjoying the touring of the state, Sidibe noted that the people he has met have been open-minded and kind. There have been open discussions about issues and interests, something he said he has enjoyed.

"Oregonians have been nice to me," he said. "The couples I've met have been very open-minded people. They have been sharing information with me and I think this is very interesting. I've been sharing about Mali who don't know much about it."

Mali is a land-locked country in Africa that is bordered by seven other countries. It is roughly the size of Texas with a population of around 18 million people. It is the largest producer of cotton in Africa, as well as the third largest producer of gold in the region. The capital is Bamako and it's also the home of Timbuktu.

"We have two seasons – the dry season and the rainy season," he said. "The rainy season is from May to October and the best time to visit Mali is May to January. The people are very friendly and we have a lot of tourist places."

Unfortunately, he noted, tourism has been down the last several years as security concerns have grown. That's what makes this year's election, slated for July 29, so important to his country.

"It is an exciting and complex situation," Sidibe said. "We must create opportunities for our people."

With more than 60 percent of the country's population age 25 of under, there's a concern that if positive opportunities for this young population aren't delivered, other, more negative opportunities will rear their heads. The young people need to see a way forward.

"We produce this cotton, but process less than 2 percent of what we produce," he said. "We produce so much gold, but have no refineries. There are opportunities for us in agriculture and industrial."

And that, he said, is why this election is so important. But unlike America, the candidate count is pretty impressive. In 2013 the country got decide between 28 presidential candidates. At this point, 10 candidates have declared to run for the office, but Sidibe said more will join the fray.

When Sidibe isn't discovering new things in Oregon, or engaged in a presidential campaign, he heads a nonprofit organization in Mali called Live Your Dream, which works to empower youth, self-development, communication, translation and interpretive services to people. He's also the founding president of the first English Toastmasters in Mali. Toastmasters helped him get involved in leadership programs, which offered him a chance to visit the East Coast several years ago.

"I got to meet President Obama and shake his hand," Sidibe said.

With the trip of Oregon finished, he's off to Mali to hit the campaign trail with his candidate. The race for his country's future will officially be underway.

"Really, right now through social media, there is a general awareness of how the world is governed," he said. "This election is crucial because we want to remove all the corrupt leaders. Our candidate has done a lot of things in Mali – he's built 37 schools. When he was an ambassador he was able to bring some economic missions to Mali. Right now, young people are interested in change because they don't have faith in the old generation that was there. We want young leadership right now, to bring new blood into leadership of our country."

Still, he's hoping to return to Oregon in the future. He wants to see Mt. Hood and other places he wasn't able to get to this time. And there are certainly some indelible memories he takes with him after this trip.

"I found that life here is very expensive compared to what we think about America," he said. "It's very expensive – you pay for parking lots, housing, food, everything is about money. It's not a pleasure to spend all the time. And each state has its own way of doing things. It's interesting."

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