Samore Toure

Samore Toure (1830-1900) was a West African empire builder and fighter against French colonialism. He was the leader of the Mandinka Empire and he is well remembered for his exceptional military prowess, conquest, strategies, diplomacy in light of resistance to colonial encroachment. This paper presentation seeks to focus on Samore Toure’s tactics and evidence of use of tactics, strategies, planning and diplomatic acumen encapsulating issues to do with debates relating to some historians who labelled him the “Black Napoleon of Sudan”, his “scorched earth” approach in the battlefield, use of infantry snipers, hiring European deserters, harassment of French supplies, executing guerilla tactics among others to mentioned in the foregoing paper.

Warrior King, empire builder and hero of the resistance against the French colonization of West Africa during the 19th century, Samori Toure was born around 1830 in the Milo river valley in present day Guinea[1]. At his zenith he had control over the kingdom of Bisandungu in present day Gambia, Bamako-Mali in the north, to the frontiers of the British Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Liberia in the east and south.

It is within the context of the Berlin Conference (1884-85) that the French empire made steps towards Mandinka Empire with the intention of annexing it. The complexity of African’s political relationships among themselves influenced the nature of their resistance to colonial rule. Among African countries that managed to endure and resist European colonization and conquest is Ethiopia with the aid of Menelik ll which remained free of direct European political domination. Samori Toure created a large Mandinka empire in West Africa in the 1860s and the 1890s.

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[2]. It is from this background that he later on conquered the Bure gold mining district (now border between Mali and Guinea to bolster financial situation. He further on opened regular contacts with the British in Sierra Leone and built a working relationship with the Fulbe (Fula) jihad state of Futa Jallon. Also imperative is that he even sold slaves to Futa Jallon in exchange of cattle, horses and most importantly, French rifles. Horses were such vital animals to use in times of war and it is no doubt essential to view Samori Toure as a wise African leader who had statesmanship qualities especially considering the fact the fact that colonial encroachment meant superior weapons from the Europeans. Samori was well prepared and ready since he made treaties and trading relations which secured his power and authority for a long time. The procurement of rifles gave him equal stamina militarily to face and counter his enemies both from local surrounding areas and abroad. More interesting to note is that Samori Toure was wit enough to trade with the British so as to counter attack the French troops. Diplomacy was at its best from Samori Toure in his efforts to use his pragmatic resistance against the colonizers that is the French.

As a soldier Samori Toure forged a private army which he used to conquer territories reaching as far as Fouta Djallon (Futa Jallon) in the West to the Ashanti country of present day Ghana in the east. Toure became a well-known leader, training and commanding a growing and disciplined army. By 1874 he had declared himself Faama (monarch) and established his kingdom at Bisandungu in present day Gambia. Although his army initially defeated the French, between 1885 to1889 their military forces[3], which included Senegalese troops, succeeded in pushing further into the West African interior. After several confrontations, Toure in 1889 concluded several peace treaties with the French forces. Diplomacy is art and practice of conducting international relations by negotiating alliances, treaties, agreements, bilaterally or multilaterally between states and sometimes international organisations or even between policies varying status, such as those monarchs and their princely vassals[4]. It may also suggest subtle skill in dealing with people so as to avoid or settle hostility. Thus it can be inferred from the above that, Toure exhibited diplomatic skills when he negotiated with the French forces in his efforts to remain in power and subdue their forces/army.

As a military genius, Toure applied the “scorched earth” tactic/approach with a structure of the Samorian army comprising of four parts. A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area. Although initially referring to the practice of burning crops to deny the enemy food sources, in its modern usage the term includes the destruction of infrastructure such as shelter, transportation, communications and industrial resources[5]. With this tactic he (Toure) destroyed every piece of land he evacuated although the tactic cut him from his new source of weapons in Liberia, he still managed to delay the French[6].He understood the power of firearms early on and trained and
commanded a growing and disciplined army of musketeers[7]. By 1878 he claimed himself Faama (military leader). By 1887 he had a disciplined army of 30.000-35.000 infantry and companies on the European model and 3000 cavalry in regular squadrons of fifty each. Also notable is that Samori Toure in 1887 recruited from four sources, the regular army of sofa (infantrymen with firearms), the conscripted reserve of kurutsigi, detachments sent by chiefs under Samori’s protection and a cavalry force consisting in part, most probably of volunteers[8]. The emphasis on infantry rather than cavalry differentiated it from the armies of other nineteenth-century Islamic reforms.

The tactic or strategy that was used when he had a clash with the French for example, he executed the sweeping pincer movements to recapture the gold producing center of Bure. Flexibility was also seen in his organization that is from use of Kony warrior bands to the traditional militia call-ups centered on force of regulars to his later use of riflemen organized in smaller European style units. On the same note, Samouri Toure was able to have mobile armies, conquering new territory on one front, harassing the French on another and doubling back to reoccupy old ones. In 1885 for instance when a French expedition under Colonel A.V.A Combes attempted to seize the Bure gold fields, Samouri counter attacked. He divided his army into three mobile columns. All these steps worked in favour of Samouri Toure hence deserving the greatness and fame attached to his name.

In all resistances people considered religion as the only resort to turn to. Samori Toure also maximized on religion in his endeavor to consolidate his power and influence his people. It is also true that, “religion has always been central to people’s lives in Africa. Although the majority of Africans are now Muslim or Christian, traditional religions have endured and still play a big role. Religion runs like a thread through daily life, marked by prayers of gratitude in times of plenty and prayers of supplication in times of need. Religion confers identity on the individual and the group. In the history of the continent, religion has had a powerful effect on political change: spirit mediums have led revolts against European and African rulers, ancestral spirits have commanded acts of destruction and called for the overthrow of rulers and chiefs”[9]. Muslims viewed domination by the whitemen as compared to accepting ‘kaffir’[10] which could not be agreed by pure Muslims. In this regard, Islam was used as a unifying factor in favor of Samori Toure.

In addition to that, Samoure Touri fought with such mastery that the French military leaders referred to him as “The Black Napoleon”[11]. He frustrated his opponents the Europeans to the degree that they suffered large losses of manpower and money. Also imperative is that his mastery in military strategy and tactics caused even greater insecurity for the French. In light of the notion of regarding Samouri’s exceptional military acumen it can be however noted that the Eurocentric historian seem not to acknowledge his abilities on their own right but rather discredits the African by comparing to Napoleon Bonaparte who is non-African. It is a misguided perception and labelling as Samori Toure was his own great military leader and fighter. Above all, Samouri had also exceptional speaking skills which made him win respect, loyalty among his lieutenants.

Having said, it is notable that Samori Toure was a powerful, exceptional military genius who used his personal skills as a strategist, diplomat to further his desires and the interests of the people whom he served during his lifetime.



© 2017, Brian Maregedze {Post Graduate Candidate, B. A. Honours in History [UZ], B.A.A major in History and Religious Studies}




REFERENCES, accessed on 03 April 2017, accessed on 04 April 2017

Martin Legassick Firearms, Horses and Samorian army Organisation 1870-1898,  The Journal of African History, Volume 7, Issue 1,1966.

Oxford English Online Dictionary, accessed on 03 April 2017

Sengulo Albert Msellemu, Social Evolution & History, Vol. 12, No. 2, September 2013  ‘Uchitel’ Publishing House., accessed 06 April 2017…, accessed on 3 April 2017.




[1]…, accessed on 3 April 2017.

[2]…., accessed on 03 April 2017.

[3] Ibid


[4] Oxford English Online Dictionary, accessed on 03 April 2017.

[5]Sengulo Albert Msellemu, Social Evolution & History, Vol. 12, No. 2, September 2013  ‘Uchitel’ Publishing House, page 154

[6], accessed on 03 April 2017

[7] A musketeer (from French: mousquetaire) was an early modern type of infantry soldier equipped with a musket.

[8] Martin Legassick (1966), Firearms, Horses and Samorian army Organisation 1870-1898,  The Journal of African History, Volume 7, Issue 1, p. 96

[9], accessed on 04 April 2017

[10] Derogatory term which exhibit supremacy over the other or inferiority complex. Tendency to undermine or see as not pure or sacred.

[11], accessed 06 April 2017

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