By Expendito Chipasha Chipalo –
How many of us would think of a black man being the richest man who ever lived in the world? Such a thought never even crossed my mind until I embarked on the research to prepare materials for this column. Before then, the only black heroes I had in my mind were black sportsmen, and in the process, I discovered Mansa Mousa.
Mansa (Emperor) Mousa also called Kankan Musa was ruler of the great West African Empire of Mali in the early 14th Century. He ascended to the throne in 1307 and at the end of his reign he left a realm of riches and achievements which included the building of the Great Mosque at Timbuktu.
Today, Mansa Mousa is rated as the richest person in history in a new inflation-adjusted list of the world’s 25 wealthiest people of all time.
The Celebrity Net Worth list published on 16 October 2012 spans 1,000 years with a combined fortune of $4.317 trillion. Using an inflation rate of 2199.6 per cent where $100million in 1913 is equal to $2,299.63billion, Mansa Mousa had a personal net worth of $4000billion at the time of his death in 1331.
The list includes familiar names like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet but a blac Emperor Mansa Mousa I of Mali, sits at the top. In second place are the Rothschild family who are the richest people on earth today with a net worth of $350billion and John D Rockefeller, the richest American to have ever lived is in third place at $340billion.
Born in 1280, Mansa Mousa succeeded his grandfather who had travelled to explore the limits of the Atlantic Ocean and never came back. Mousa was only 27 years when he started his reign over the Malian Empire which covered modern day Ghana, Timbuktu and Mali.
Mali was one of the largest empires in the world at the time of Mousa’s reign. It then produced half of the world’s supply of salt and gold and that helped Mousa to accumulate his vast wealth which he used to build large mosques that still stand today.
The grandson of Sundiata, the founder of his dynasty, Mousa was a devout Muslim and he is mostly remembered for his flamboyant pilgrimage to Mecca. Many West African Rulers had made pilgrimages to Mecca, but the effect of Mousa’s pilgrimage was to advertise the Malian Empire and his personal wealth beyond the African continent and was felt for a long time.
Mousa’s pilgrimage stimulated a desire among Muslim Kingdoms and European nations to explore the source of his incredible wealth.
He traveled to Mecca in the 17TH year of his reign. Arab historians described his pilgrimage in the following text:
. “It was this pilgrimage that awakened the world to the stupendous wealth of Mali. Cairo and Mecca received this royal personage, whose glittering procession, almost put Africa’s sun to shame. Traveling from his capital of Niani on the Upper Niger River to Walata (Oualâta, Mauritania) and on to Tuat (now in Algeria) before making his way to Cairo, Mansa Mūsā was accompanied by an impressive caravan consisting of 60,000 men including a personal retinue of 12,000 slaves, all clad in brocade and Persian silk. The emperor himself rode on horseback and was directly preceded by 500 slaves, each carrying a gold-adorned staff. In addition, Mansa Mūsā had a baggage train of 80 camels, each carrying 300 pounds of gold”
Mansa Mousa’s visit to Cairo almost ended in a serious diplomatic incident. He was so absorbed in his religious observances that he was not keen to meet the ruler of Cairo, Sultan Al-Malik an-Naouir. It took a lot of persuasion before Mousa agreed to pay a formal visit to Sultan Al-Malik.
Mousa was a very generous and humble man and his spending and gifts of gold led to the collapse of the world’s most precious metal’s price on the Cairo market. The historian, al-O-Umari who visited Cairo 12 years after the emperor’s visit found the people of the city of one million at the time, still singing the praises of Mansa Mousa and he wrote thus:
“So lavish was the emperor in his spending that he flooded the Cairo market with gold, thereby causing such a decline in its value that, some 12 years later, the market had still not fully recovered.”
Mansa Mousa has been assessed by historians as a gifted administrator. During his reign, learning and the arts received royal patronage and Timbuktu grew into an important commercial and center of excellence. Scholars who were interested in history, theology and law made the mosque of Sankore in Timbuktu a teaching center. A summary of Mansa Mousa’s achievements reads:
“The organization and smooth administration of a purely African empire, the founding of the University of Sankore, the expansion of trade in Timbuktu, the architectural innovations in Gao, Timbuktu, Niani, and indeed, throughout the whole of Mali and in the subsequent Songhai Empire are all testimony to Mansa Mūsā’s superior administrative gifts. In addition, the moral and religious principles he had taught his subjects endured after his death.”
Unfortunately, just two generations after his death, Mansa Mousa’s wealth was diminished. His heirs were not able to survive civil wars and to fend off invaders.
However Mansa Mousa’s personal net worth still makes him the richest person who ever lived on earth. His piety, generosity, administrative gifts and achievements must inspire black people to aspire for higher heights devoid of greed.