Before Jeff Bezos (current wealthiest man in the world), before Bill Gates and before Warren Buffett there was Mansa Musa (1280 – 1337).
‘Mansa’ meaning “Sultan” (king) or “emperor” is the title given to Musa Keita, the tenth king of the West African Islamic Mali Empire. He ruled Mali from 1312-1337. In this period the Mali kingdom was said to have the largest produce of gold in the world. This lead to Mansa Musa to be one of the richest people in history. He was known to have been enormously wealthy; reportedly as being inconceivably rich by contemporaries.
A Devout Muslim, he would spend much time fostering the growth of Islam within his empire. He wanted Mali to become the central hub of knowledge for Islam in Africa so he wanted to attract as much attention to the Mali empire as possible. So he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the likes the world has never seen.
Mansa Musa embarked on a 4000-mile journey to Mecca with a caravan that stretched as far as the eye can see. The number varies across different sources, with some reporting 60,000-strong caravan consisting of attendants, camels, slaves and etc. His caravan men were all wearing expensive brocade and Persian silk. They each carried with them gold staffs, had there own organised horses and handled bags. His slaves also carried gold with them. Mansa Musa provided all necessities feeding his entire company including the animals. Ibn Khaldun later interviewed one of the emperors travelling companions. The man claimed that the emperor would entertain them with rare foods and confectionery.
Not only would he spend his wealth on his caravan and it’s attendants but he would also give away his gold to any poor person he would meet on his route to Mecca. It was said that he gave so much gold away and spent so much of his gold in Cairo in particular, the city underwent mass inflation which destabilised the economy and took years to recover. Tales of his wealth spread to Europe. Everywhere he went he would build mosques and universities so much so that It was said that he would build a mosque every Friday.
1375, Catalan Atlas depicts the African Muslim King
He finally came back to his home country after a year with scholars and architects to build mosques and universities to spread the knowledge of Islam across his kingdom. He urbanised cities such as Timbuktu and built a legendary mosque called Djinguereber Mosque which still stands till this day. After his 25 years in power, Mansa Musa died in 1337 leaving behind a legacy that was legendary and put Mali on the world map. It also helps to erase any stereotypes that there were no successful African kingdoms and that civilisation stemmed from foreign invaders or traders.
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