10°51′36.2″N 14°25′26.6″W / 10.860056°N 14.424056°W / 10.860056; -14.424056

Wassoulou Empire
Flag of Wassoulou Empire
Wassoulou Empire at its peak
Wassoulou Empire at its peak
Common languagesArabic (official)
Sunni Islam
• 1878–1898
Samori Ture
• Established
• Disestablished
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

The Wassoulou empire, sometimes referred to as the Mandinka Empire, was a short lived West African state that existed from roughly 1878 until 1898,[1] although dates vary from source to source. It spanned from what is now southwestern Mali and upper Guinea, with its capital in Bissandugu; it expanded further south and east into northern Ghana and Ivory Coast before its downfall.

Origins & preceding events to establishment

When Umar Tall, the ruler of the Toucouleur Empire, died in 1864 during a fight against the Massina Empire in modern day Senegal a number of the chieftains from different communities rebelled to try and claim their own land.[citation needed]  Samori Toure was by far the most successful of these Chieftains. While it is unclear exactly when the territory began being called the Wassoulou empire, we know that independent trade started occurring in the 1870s, especially with the neighbouring Tidjaniya Caliphate.[2] Toure was commanding an independent army by 1876 and imported rifles from the British Sierra Leone.[3] The army captured the Bure gold mining district on the border of Mali and Guinea to become more financially stable and continue trade, and by 1878 Toure had declared himself Faama (Emperor) of the Wassoulou empire, with Bissandugu as its capital.[citation needed] He took up the title of Almami in 1884,[4] which is a religious title, highlighting the empire's advancement as a social community rather than a strictly military state.

Colonial conflict and army

Ruins of Samori Ture's residence at Bondoukou

Main article: Mandingo Wars

The Wassoulou army spent many of its resources resisting French colonialism after uniting the different African states. During the late 19th century the Scramble for Africa meant European colonization of Africa begun to speed up, and Wassoulou came into regular conflict with France. Toure’s trading relationship with the British in Sierra Leone allowed for the Wassoulou army to be relatively well equipped, the guns and horses were paid for with slaves and gold from the Bure mine.[citation needed] It was split into an infantry division (sofa) made up of mostly slaves that numbered up to 35000 men by 1887, and a cavalry division numbering 3000. One handicap that the army never overcame when fighting the French was a lack of artillery. Under Samori Ture, the state had its own firearms industry that employed about 300–400 blacksmiths. 12 guns were produced a week and roughly 200–300 cartridges a day.[5] Between 1860s and 1880 the army’s main priorities consisted of stopping rebellions and expanding the empire. Toure’s army united the different Dyula states (mostly in Guinea) in the 1860s. By 1870 he had complete control over the Milo River valley in Guinea and southwestern Mali, and by 1880 the empire was the main ruler of the upper Niger river.[citation needed] The French came into major contact with the Wassoulou army in 1882, when they ordered the Wassoulou forces to leave Kenyeran, one of the major market centers in the Mande area. After Toure refused the French attacked at Borgnis-Desbordes, and the Wassoulou forces had to retreat. After other skirmishes led by Toure’s brother, Keme-Brema, Toure tried to avoid conflict with the French wherever possible.[citation needed]

In 1885 Toure sent men to Freetown in Sierra Leone to propose that Wassoulou become a British protectorate – effectively handing the empire over to them.[6] The British rejected in order to avoid conflict with France but allowed increased trade in the form of selling more rifles to the Wassoulou army. The French army took over the Bure gold mines in 1885 but they were quickly recaptured due to their importance in the continuation of the empire's existence as an independent trading body. After the attempt to win British protection failed, Toure signed a number of treaties with the French in an attempt to cultivate a peaceful relationship with the colonizers. First in 1886 in which his troops were withdrawn from the eastern bank of the river Niger but maintaining power in Bure and Mande, then in 1887 where the Western bank of the Niger was handed over and Wassoulou was placed under French protection.[7] Following the Brussels Conference of 1890, which limited the trade of fire arms and ammunition, the empire was unable to buy as many weapons from the British, further limiting his ability to combat French forces.[8] In 1891 the French took over Kankan, a major trading center, and in 1892 a successful siege of Bissandugu left the empire without its capital.[2] Toure reverted to relocating his entire territory eastwards and burning the land he left behind. He conquered the Abron kingdom and the Kong Empire from 1895-98, while still fighting off both French and now British attacks. After Toure’s capture in 1898 and death in 1900 the empire’s territory and people were divided up in colonial rule, mostly falling into the French West African territories.[4]

Society, economy, and religion

While the area that the Wassoulou empire covered was a fairly diverse area of ethnic groups and communities, the majority were Mandinka, and spoke the Mandinka language, the area of Wassoulou now speaks a dialect of Mandinka called Wassoulou, but it is unknown when this dialect emerged. The majority of people living in the empire were subsistence farmers. By the 1880s the economic stability of the empire was very reliant on the internal slave trade, mostly fueled by people handing themselves over to slavery after being conquered by the Wassoulou army. Because many of the areas conquered were so culturally different, Islam was used as a structure around which a state could be created and a tool to build cohesiveness between the different ethnicities.[citation needed] Mosques and schools were built in many conquered areas and a judicial system was also put in place, but much of the population found this to be a threat to their own cultural traditions and Toure's authority was questioned. After a famine in 1885 revolts became more common and insurgencies had to be put down on top of fighting a war against the French.[4]


  1. ^ BLACK, JEREMY (2021). A Short History of War. Yale University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv1z9n1hp. ISBN 978-0-300-25651-2. JSTOR j.ctv1z9n1hp. S2CID 239267355.
  2. ^ a b Adu., Boahen, A. (2003). Africa under colonial domination, 1880-1935. New Africa Education. ISBN 0-85255-097-9. OCLC 230136264.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Ajayi, J. F. Ade; Unesco. International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa (1989). Africa in the nineteenth century until the 1880s. Internet Archive. Oxford : Heinemann ; [Berkeley] : [University of] California [Press] ; [Paris] : Unesco. ISBN 978-0-435-94812-2.
  4. ^ a b c Peterson, Brian J. (2008). "History, Memory and the Legacy of Samori in Southern Mali, C. 1880-1898". The Journal of African History. 49 (2): 261–279. doi:10.1017/S0021853708003903. ISSN 0021-8537. JSTOR 40206642. S2CID 155012842.
  5. ^ Legassick, Martin (1966). "Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organization 1870-1898". The Journal of African History. 7 (1): 95–115. doi:10.1017/S0021853700006101. ISSN 0021-8537. JSTOR 179462. S2CID 161296264.
  6. ^ Jones, Alex (2020-07-06). "Colonial expansion from Freetown to Sierra Leone. 1800–1900". Medium. Retrieved 2023-05-07.
  7. ^ Martin, Phyllis M.; Boahen, A. Adu (1987). "The UNESCO General History of Africa, Volume VII: Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 20 (2): 351. doi:10.2307/219869. ISSN 0361-7882. JSTOR 219869.
  8. ^ "EXCERPT: Brussels Conference Act of 1890". Black Agenda Report. 2022-11-30. Retrieved 2023-05-07.

Further reading