Guinea’s first president Ahmed Sékou Toure was claimed to be his great-grandson. A military leader who founded a Muslim empire, Samori Toure resisted French rule at the end of the 19th century, long after many other Africans had surrendered. He earned the nickname the Napoleon of Africa thanks to his acts of gallantry against the French.
A warrior king and empire builder, Toure started life as a trader following in the footsteps of his father. Born around 1830 in the Milo River Valley in present-day Guinea, Toure met many Islamic scholars and learned from them how to finance his trading business.
But in 1853, he quit trading when his mother was kidnapped during a raid by the leader of the Cisse clan. Toure decided to be a personal slave of the clan leader who abducted his mother. After serving the clan leader for seven years, seven months and seven days, his mother was released. Some accounts however state that Toure enrolled in the military forces at Madina (present-day Mali) to free his mother.
After his mom gained his freedom, Toure learned the Quran and obtained Islamic education. But he also acquired military skills while taking part in various campaigns for local chiefs. Soon, Toure became a widely known military leader with a disciplined army who received both military training and Islamic education from him.
He was able to expand his conquests, building a united empire called Mandinka. Toure, by 1874, had declared himself Faama (monarch). He established the capital of his Mandinka kingdom at Bisandugu in present-day Gambia. In the 1880s, his empire expanded from Bamako, Mali, in the north, to the frontiers of British Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, and Liberia in the east and south. The Sudan was the eastward frontier, according to one account.
In 1884, he took the title of Almami, meaning the religious head of a Muslim empire. Commanding an army of between 40,000 to 65,000 soldiers, he captured gold mines near the Sierra Leone-Guinea border, becoming one of the richest kings in the region, as stated by another account. He even attempted to reestablish the famous Mali Kingdom, which existed in Western Africa from 1235 to 1670.
Following the 1884 Berlin Conference which partitioned Africa, French forces began encroaching on Mandinka. Toure’s army initially defeated the French, but between 1885 and 1889 the French military forces, which often included Senegalese troops, were able to push Toure and his army further into the West African interior. Toure eventually signed three deals with the French.
After the first agreement was signed in 1886, Toure left Bure. The following year, he gave control of the west bank of Niger to France. And following the last agreement he signed with France in 1889, he left the area from Tisinko to the Niger River. However, France attacked Toure again in 1891 and he was compelled to leave his capital and many important parts of his country to France.
He and his army moved backward to the northern sides of the Ivory Coast. During their retreat, they targeted Muslim forces who had worked with the French. By 1898, Toure had moved to Liberia. He would later form a second empire and establish its new capital in the city of Kong, Upper Ivory Coast.
On May 1, 1898, French forces seized the town of Sikasso, just north of the new empire. Toure and his army took up positions in the Liberian forests to resist another invasion. But Toure was not lucky this time. He was seized by the French on September 29, 1898, after famine and desertion had weakened his forces.
Toure was exiled to Ndjolé, Gabon, where he died of pneumonia on June 2, 1900. A military strategist, warrior king, and empire builder, he is remembered as a powerful example of resistance to French colonial forces.