One of the great kings and fighters of African freedom was Samori Touré. Over 100 years ago, Samori Touré was captured by the French and deported to Gabon where he died of pneumonia. But who was Samori Touré?
Samori Touré was born in 1830 in Manyambaladugu (some texts mention Sanankoro instead), a village southeast of Kankan in present-day Guinea. Samori was a great warrior. He refused to submit to French colonisation and thus chose the path of confrontation using warfare and diplomacy.
Until the age of 20, Samori was a trader. After his mother was captured in a slave raid by the king Sori Birama, he offered to serve in his army and excelled by his military prowess and skills.
Samori Touré had a vision of unity for the Malinké people, and thus started organising his empire using traditional and innovative methods. He effectively organised Malinké chiefdoms into a single state under his authority, at the core of which was the army. He managed to increase loyalty to the state in the Malinké people who now thought as one united people…
this intensified their allegiance to him. His state was well-organised and efficient. Samori’s army was powerful, disciplined, professional, and trained in modern day warfare. They were equipped with European guns. The army was divided into two flanks, the infantry or Sofa, with 30,000 to 35,000 men, and the cavalry or Sere of 3,000 men. Each wind was further subdivided into permanent units, fostering camaraderie among members and loyalty to both the local leaders and Samori himself. His empire reached his apogee between 1883 and 1887, and he took the title of Almami or religious leader of a Muslim empire.
Samori Touré created the Mandinka empire (the Wassoulou empire) between 1852 and 1882. His empire extended to the east as far as Sikasso (present-day Mali), to the west up to the Fouta Djallon empire (middle of modern day Guinea), to the north from Kankan to Bamako (in Mali) to the south, down to the borders of present-day Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire. His capital was Bisandugu.
In the 1850s, slavery being abolished, European powers decided to establish colonies in Africa, and could not tolerate strong states like the Mandinka empire, and strong leaders like Samori Touré. These African leaders had to be crushed.
In 1882, at the height of the Mandinka empire, the French accused Samori Touré of refusing to comply with their order to withdraw from an important market centre, Kenyeran (his army had blockaded the market). They thus started a war on him. From 1882 to 1885, Samori fought the French and had to sign infamous treaties in 1886 and then 1887. In 1888, he took up arms again when the French reneged on the treaty by attempting to foster rebellion within his empire. He defeated the French several times between 1885 and 1889. After several confrontations, he concluded several treaties with the French in 1889.
In 1890, he reorganised his army, and signed a treaty with the British in Sierra Leone, where he obtained modern weapons. He re-organised his army so as to stress defence, and employed guerilla tactics.
In December 1891, French forces overran the major cities of the Mandinka empire, leaving death and desolation in their wake. These incursions into Touré’s empire led to exodus of the entire nation eastward. In 1893, Samori moved his capital east from Bisandugu to Dabakala. In 1894, the French assembled all their troops in western sudan (Senegal, Mali, Niger, etc…) to fight Samori.
Capture of Samori
Between 1893 and 1898, Samori’s army retreated eastward, toward the Bandama and Como (in modern day Cote d’Ivoire), conquering huge territories in the northern part of modern-day Cote d’ivoire. He led the scorched earth tactic, destroying every piece of land he evacuated. Although that tactic cut him from his new source of weapons in Liberia, he still managed to delay the French. He formed a second empire, and moved his capital to Kong, in upper Cote d’Ivoire. On 1 May 1898, the French seized the town of Sikasso and his army took up positions in the Liberian forests to resist a second invasion. Samori’s army fought valiantly but was no match to the power of the French arsenal. Samori forced to fight a total war against a foreign invader, and fighting against all odds, was captured on 29 September 1898, in his camp in Guélémou in present-day Côte d’Ivoire. He was exiled to Gabon where he died two years later on June 2, 1900.
Samori Touré was a warrior, a fighter, an empire builder, and one of the greatest African military leaders ever seen. He fought and won against the French army several times before his capture.
Interestingly enough, over 50 years later, Sekou Touré, the grandson of Samori, was the only one to say ‘NO’ to France, and to General de Gaulle. He said Guineans preferred freedom over slavery under the European master… that was in Guinea!