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Account for Samori Touré’s success in building the Mandinka Empire. Analyse its main political, economic and social features.

Samori built on foundations already laid by Dyula traders with whom he had close links; but his military skills, acquired when serving in the Sise army, were the main factor behind his success as an empire builder. He broke away from the Sise army and became an independent warlord in 1857. His main military conquests were made between 1867 and 1881 but others followed until 1888. He also used diplomacy and marriage alliances to expand his territory. He established his capital at Bissandugu in 1873. As the Empire grew, a sound economic base (links with Dyula traders) and religious factors (Islam) helped him consolidate his gains. (See Tidy and Leeming, Vol.1, pp62-65 for details).

Main features

Political: The Empire enjoyed efficient government and administration. Samori’s military and religious strengths were reflected in his system of government. Military and religious personnel – ‘Sofas’ and ‘Qadis’ – held prominent positions. Samori, though head of state, was not a despot. He was helped by a Council of Advisers, each of which was responsible for a particular sector (justice, finance, foreign relations, etc.) The Empire was divided into 10 provinces. Samori, the ‘Almami’, ruled the three central provinces. Provinces were sub-divided into cantons, 126 in all. Cantons each consisted of 20 villages. In conquered regions former rulers were allowed to retain some influence under the provincial head, an army official. The army, with highly trained and well equipped cavalry and infantry units, was recruited from all parts of the Empire to help unify the state. Social: ‘Islam’ was used as a unifying factor within the Empire.

The principle of promotion on merit enabled people of humble origin to hold important posts.The Tijanniya Brotherhood, to which Samori belonged, emphasised equality. Birth and ethnicity counted for little. Great weight was attached to education, and Koranic schools existed throughout the Empire. Other religions besides Islam were tolerated until the late 1880s when Samori attempted enforced conversions. These led to the outbbreak of the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1888–1889 and had to be abandoned. Economic: Samori never forgot his origins as a Dyula trader and he owed much to Dyula support and wealth. In return the Dyula were guaranteed freedom to trade throughout the Empire in stable conditions. Gold, horses and firearms were amongst the main items of trade. Agriculture was highly organised. The ‘Almami’s Fields’ were a feature of every village and provided the basis of the army’s food supply.

N.B. Material on Samori’s struggle with the French and on the downfall of the Empire will not be
relevant here. Marks should be evenly divided between the two parts of the question.

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