Wassoulou Empire

The Wassoulou Empire, sometimes referred to as the Mandinka Empire, was a short-lived (18781898) empire of West Africa built from the conquests of Malinke ruler Samori Ture and destroyed by the French colonial army.

Wassoulou Empire
Wassoulou Empire at its peak
Common languagesArabic (official)
Sunni Islam
Samori Ture
29 September 1898
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Baté Empire
Toucouleur Empire
Kong Empire
French West Africa
Sierra Leone Colony and Protectorate
Today part ofCôte d'Ivoire
Sierra Leone
Samory Touré

In 1864, Toucouleur ruler El Hajj Umar Tall died near Bandiagara, leaving the then-dominant Toucouleur Empire tottering and a number of chiefs rushing to break their own pieces away from the newly weakened federation. By far the most successful among them was Samori Touré of what is now southwestern Guinea.

Army organization

Samori's army was well equipped with European firearms and a complex structure of permanent units. His army was divided into an infantry wing of sofa (Mandinka for infantry, usually slaves) and a cavalry wing. By 1887, Samori could field 30,000 to 35,000 infantry and about 3,000 cavalry.[1] Infantry were divided into units of 10 to 20 men known as a "se" or "kulu". Cavalry were divided into bands of 50 horsemen called a "sere".[2] Kulus were under the command of a Kun-Tigui, meaning chief. Ten kulus equaled a bolo (100–200 men). The bolo, which in the Banmana language translates to "arm", was strictly an infantry unit.[3] The bolo kun-tigui commanded this unit. Under Samori Ture, the state had its own firearms industry that employed about 300 and 400 blacksmiths. 12 guns were produced a week and roughly 200–300 cartridges a day.[4]


Ruins of Samori Ture's residence at Bondoukou

Samori's campaign swept first through his neighbors, the Bérété and the Cissé, and then into the Wassoulou region (the border of today's Guinea and Mali). In 1876, he secured the Buré gold mines, and by 1878, his position was secure enough to officially declare himself faama (military leader) of a new Wassoulou Empire.

Later conquests included Kankan, a key Malinke trading center, and sections of what are now Sierra Leone and northern Côte d'Ivoire.

The Mandingo Wars

From 1880 until his death, Samori's ambition was opposed by the expansion of the French. He entered into combat with the colonial army, defeating them on several occasions, including a notable victory on 2 April 1882, at Woyowayanko in the face of French heavy artillery.

Nonetheless, Samori was forced to sign several treaties ceding territory to the French between 1886 and 1889. Samori began a steady retreat, but the fall of other resistance armies, particularly Babemba Traoré at Sikasso, permitted the colonial army to launch a concentrated assault against his forces. On 29 September 1898, he was captured by the French Commandant Goudraud and exiled to Gabon, marking the end of the Wassoulou Empire.


  1. Boahen, 1990
  2. Boahen, 1989
  3. Ogot, 463
  4. Legassick, Martin (1966). "Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organization 1870-1898". The Journal of African History. 7 (1): 95–115. doi:10.1017/S0021853700006101. JSTOR 179462. S2CID 161296264.
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