Updated: Jun 28
Samori Touré was born in the Milo River Valley in modern-day Guinea around 1830. Touré's father was a businessman, so he followed in his footsteps early on. In the 1850s, he enlisted in the armed forces of Madina (modern-day Mali) in order to free his mother, a Malinké ethnic group member who had been kidnapped during a raid. Before beginning his own career, he gained military experience by participating in numerous campaigns for local chiefs. Warrior king, empire builder, and hero of the 19th-century resistance to French colonization of West Africa.
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Touré rose to prominence as a general, educating and leading a large and disciplined army. He consolidated his conquests, forming the Mandinka Empire. By 1874, he had proclaimed himself Faama (monarch) and founded his kingdom's capital in Bisandugu, Gambia. In the 1880s, the empire grew from Bamako, Mali, in the north to the eastern and southern borders of British Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, and Liberia. The Sudan was the easternmost point. Between 1883 and 1887, Touré's empire reached its pinnacle, at which time he was given the title of Almami, which means "holy head of a Muslim empire."
French powers started encroaching on Mandinka after the 1884 Berlin Conference, which partitioned Africa. While his army defeated the French at first, between 1885 and 1889, the French military forces, which included many Senegalese soldiers, were able to drive him deeper into West Africa's interior. Following many confrontations, Touré signed numerous peace treaties with the French in 1889.
Increased French incursions into Touré's empire led to the exodus of the entire nation eastward in December 1891. Touré's army occupied large swaths of present-day Northern Ivory Coast between 1893 and 1898. Toure founded a new empire in Kong, Upper Ivory Coast, and built a new capital there.
When the French captured Sikasso, a town just north of the new empire, on May 1, 1898, Touré and his army took up positions in the Liberian forests to fend off a second invasion. Famine and desertion weakened his forces this time, and the French captured Touré in his camp at Guélémou in present-day Ivory Coast on September 29, 1898. Touré was exiled to Ndjolé, Gabon, where he died on June 2, 1900, from pneumonia.
Ibrahima Khalil Fofana, L’Almami Samori Touré: Empereur (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1998); Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Histoire de l’Afrique Noire (Paris: Edition Hatier, 1978); Richard Roberts, “Touré, Samori (1830-1900),” in New Encyclopedia of Africa, John Middleton and Joseph Calder Miller, eds. (Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2008).