Sundiata Keita was the founder of the famous Mali Empire in West Africa. His life history appears extremely impressive. His role as a leader among the Mandinka people of Mali since the time when he founded the Mali Empire in the year 1230, till his sudden death in 1255 propelled him to the rank of a great leader.
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Most griots, including Griot Mamadou Kouvate refer to Sundiata as the son of the Buffalo or the son of the lion because he displayed brevity and outstanding strength during his rule. Griots are highly respected in Mali because they are known to be resourceful particularly in telling heroic stories of the kings who ruled the Malian Empire. They all depict King Sundiata as a hero who conquered political and social challenges.
I agree with the Mande griots that Sundiata was a prominent leader, primarily because of the characteristics he displayed since his childhood to his sudden death at River Sankarani. I believe that an individual is regarded as a leader if he portrays a number of social characteristics. First, an ideal leader is expected to be brave since he is entrusted with the responsibilities of leading people through adversities and other challenging moments.
Secondly, a leader should be someone who is prudent. Efficient leadership requires a high level of wisdom because it involves making crucial decisions. At times, a leader is supposed to make decisions over sensitive societal issues: thus, prudence serves as a principal aspect of a prominent leader. Thirdly, a leader is expected to be popular. Being popular enables a leader to execute his leadership roles smoothly without resistance from the society.
In fact, tyranny rule is witnessed in social groups who lack popular leaders since members of the society resist leadership violently, because they perceive their leaders as oppressors. Fourthly, a true leader should be knowledgeable and observant. A knowledgeable leader portrays high understanding about the needs of his people. Moreover, he shows advanced understanding about the surrounding environment: thus, he prepares his people to face various challenges effectively.
Finally, a leader is supposed to be attentive. Being attentive enables a leader to listen to his people and respond to their needs appropriately. Listening to the people enables a leader to forge his leadership styles according to the expectations of the society. As such, a high degree of homogeneity in leadership is observed throughout all levels of social structures within the society.
I, therefore, attribute King Sundaita’s outstanding leadership to his social characteristics. He portrayed all the features of a true leader through maintaining harmony in the vast Empire of Mali. His intuitive leadership skills and brevity earned him immense honor among the Mandinka tribes of West Africa.
Moreover, his exceptional leadership qualities enabled him to be regarded as a strong spiritual leader because he was given the title of a Mansa, one of the esteemed ranks of Islamic Religion. Sundiata’s victory in leadership can be attributed to his brave nature.
He displayed brevity in various occasions during his life-time, especially during his struggle to liberate his people from the tyrant rule of his step-brother, Dankaran and King Suomaoro Kante of Sosso. His outstanding strength was first observed when he conquered social defects by getting on his feet with the help of an iron rod. His remarkable moments were when he entered into a fierce battle with King Suomaoro who had overthrown his step-brother, Dankaran and taken over the Malian city of Kaba, and defeated him. Soumaoro was a mighty king who had conquered many kingdoms in West Africa and killed about nine kings.
This was evidenced by the seven heads found in his chamber by Balla Fasseke, Sundiata’s griot who had been taken captive by Soumaoro. Nevertheless, Soumaoro’s fierce nature did not deter Sundiata’s determination to liberate Mali from the hands of the evil ruler. Secondly, Sundiata was known to be a prudent ruler because he approached situations in a wise manner.
This aspect made him popular throughout the Malian Empire, and his leadership was readily accepted by the Mandinka people. Thirdly, Sundiata was known to be knowledgeable and observant. He could seek for the wisdom of soothsayers and griots for revelation of future moments, purposely for preparedness sake.
Sundiata displayed true leadership qualities throughout his life, even though no one would believe he was to become a famous ruler among the Mandanka people because he was born lame. His father Margan could not have handed over his throne to Sundiata if it were not for the hunters’ prophesy. It is worth noting that Sundiata proved to be attentive to his people, and that is why his legacy remains to be cherished by the Mandinka people of Mali.