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Samori Ture
(c. 1830-1900)

Whatever happens we have got
The maxim-gun and they have not
—English poet Hilaire Belloc

Born about 1830 in Sanankaro, a village southeast of Kankan in present-day Guinea, Samori Ture chose the path of confrontation, using warfare and diplomacy, to deal with the French colonial incursion into West Africa and established himself as the leading African opponent of European imperialism.

Samori's parents were traders and he followed this occupation until he was 20. Learning that his mother was captured in a slave raid, he offered to serve in her captor Sori Birama's army in exchange for his mother's release. Attaining the position of commander and displaying extraordinary military skill and prowess, he and his mother were subsequently released. Coupled with his experience as a trader, these two qualities were to serve him in good stead as he built his army.

Samori Ture observed that the Malinke peoples were disorganized and that there was no single chief with the ability to unite them. Declaring himself independent of Sori Birama, Samori Ture gained the support of an increasing number of Malinke chiefs for his vision of Malinke unity, and patiently began to construct an empire. Samori employed the triple thrust of persuasion, threat, and war, in the same way as Sundiata did in Mali, to expand the Mandinka state.

Utilizing a combination of traditional and innovative methods, Samori effectively organized the Malinke chiefdoms into a single state under his undisputed authority. At the core was the army, with Samori as both commander-in-chief as well as the head of state. This innovation intensified loyalty to the state, with primary allegiance to Samori.

Revolutionary and efficient at that time, Samori's organization of the state was a pyramid structure with him at the apex, which allowed him to exercise rigid and effective control as never seen before in the Western Sudan. Between 1852 and 1882, Samori Ture created the Mandinka Empire.

In 1881, Samori extended the empire to the east as far as Sikasso (in Mali); to the west, up to the Futa Djallon Empire (close to the middle of modern Guinea); to the north, from Kankan to Bamako (in Mali); to the south, up to the borders of present-day Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, European powers decided to establish colonies in West Africa and could not tolerate strong states like the Mandika Empire and for the same reason, strong leaders like Samori Ture.

Samori developed a powerful, virtually professional army equipped with European arms and trained in modern methods of warfare. 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 wing was further subdivided into permanent units, fostering camaraderie among members and loyalty to both the local leaders and Samori himself.

In 1882, at the height of the Mandinka Empire, the French found their excuse. Samori Ture refused to comply with their order to withdraw from an important market center, Kenyeran, which his army had blockaded.

Between 1882 and 1885, Samori Ture fought the French, ending with a treaty in 1886 and then again in 1887.

In 1888, he took up arms again when the French reneged on the treaty by attempting to foster rebellion within the empire.

In 1890, he reorganized the army and concluded a treaty with the British in Sierra Leone, where he obtained modern weapons. He now stressed defense and employed guerilla tactics.

In 1891, with his improved weaponry and reorganized army, he defeated the French.

In 1892, French forces overran the major centers of the Mandinka empire, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

In 1893, deciding that the east was the only direction for expansion of the Mandinka empire, Samori moved the capital from Bisandougou to Dabakala.

In 1894, the final push by the French brought together all their troops in the Western Sudan to concentrate on Samori's remaining territories. Samori's army fought valiantly but was no match for the power of the French at full strength.

In 1898, Samori, forced to fight a total war against innumerable odds, was captured and exiled to Gabon, where he died two years later.

French colonialism triumphed, as one of the most resolute resistance movements against European colonization ended.

In 1959, Charles de Gaulle became president of France. Under his constitution, it was proposed that a French Community, with the relationship between France and the colonies similar to that of the British Commonwealth, be established. The colonies could accept or reject the proposal, in which case, France would cease all aid.

All the territories voted "Yes," with the exception of Guinea under the leadership of Samori Ture's grandson, Sekou Ture.
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Africans and Their History, Joseph E. Harris. Penguin USA, second revised edition, 1998.
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

General History of Africa, Vol. VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century Until the 1880s. UNESCO, 1999.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 2, J.D. Fage (ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Topics in West African History, A. Adu Boahen, Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, and Michael Tidy. Addison-Wesley, 1987.
Buy it in textbook binding: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Search for 'Samori Ture' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
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