1. Mansa Musa - One of the Richest men who ever lived


    Mansa Musa, ‘The Lion of Mali’ was the tenth mansa, better known as “king of kings” or “emperor”, of the Malian Empire of Mali West Africa. He became one of the most powerful and wealthiest leaders of his time. He made Mali’s name renowned in the imaginations of European and Islamic countries In the 14th century.

    The wealth he commanded, social customs and grandeur of his court, led to the kingdom of Mali being internationally revered (Cheney 2004).

    Image 1. Mansu Musa on his pilgrimage to Mecca

    He is most noted for his pilgrimage to Mecca which put Mali on the map, Degraft-Johnson (1998) noted, ‘It was in 1324 … that the world awoke to the splendour and grandeur of Mali. There across the African desert, and making its way to Mecca, was a caravan of a size which had never before been seen, a caravan consisting of 60,000 men. They were Mansa Musa’s men, and Mansa Musa was with them. He was not going to war: he was merely going to worship at Mecca. The huge caravan included a personal retinue of 12,000 servants, all dressed in brocade and Persian silk. Mansa Musa himself rode on horseback, and directly preceding him were 500 servants, each carrying a staff of gold weighing about six pounds (500 mitkal). In Egypt, Musa spent so much money in gold that he devastated that nation’s economy. For years after Mansa Musa’s visit, ordinary people in the streets of Cairo, Mecca, and Baghdad talked about this wonderful pilgrimage - a pilgrimage which led to the devaluation of gold in the Middle East for several years.”

    Cynthia Crossen wrote in her book ‘The Rich’ ,”You’ve heard about the extraordinary wealth of Bill Gates, J. P. Morgan, and the sultan of Brunei, but have you heard of Mansa Musa, one of the richest men who ever lived?. He was Neither producer nor inventor, Mansa Musa was an early broker, greasing the wheels of intercultural trade. He created wealth by making it possible for others to buy and sell”. Basil Davidson suggested that the rulers of Mali were “rumoured to have been the wealthiest men on the face of the earth” (Davidson 1995).

    Image 2. Mansa Musa presiding over his Kingdom

    His pilgrimage planted Mali in men’s minds and its riches fired up the imagination. In 1339, Mali appeared on a “Map of the World”. In 1367, another map of the world showed a road leading from North Africa through the Atlas Mountains into the Western Sudan. In 1375 a third map of the world showed a richly attired monarch holding a large gold nugget in the area south of the Sahara. Also, trade between Egypt and Mali flourished (Black History Pages 2008). 

    Image 3. Depiction of Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mali Empire in the 14th century, from a 1375 Catalan Atlas of the known world (mapamundi), drawn by Abraham Cresques of Mallorca. Musa is shown holding a gold nugget and wearing a European-style crown.

    On his return from Mecca he brought back with him an Arabic library, religious scholars, and architects, who helped him build a royal palace universities, libraries and mosques all over his kingdom (Black History Pages 2oo8). For example the mosque of the University of Sankore was highly distinguished for the teaching of Koranic theology and law, besides other subjects such as astronomy and mathematics. Micheal Palin, a BBC programme maker noted In 2002 on his return from Timbuktu reported that the Great Mosque of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years … It is convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe”. Furthermore he went on to say “In the 15th century in Timbuktu, the mathematicians knew about the details of the eclipse, knew things which we had to wait for 150, almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it” (Palin 2002).

    Image 4. Djenne’s Monday market surrounding its Great Mosque, Mali

    He strengthened Islam and promoted education, trade, and commerce in Mali. Laying the foundations for Walata, Jenne, and Timbuktu to become the cultural and commercial centers of North Africa (Walker 2005). Infact Timbuktu became one of the major cultural centers of not only Africa but of the entire Islamic world producing Arabic-language black literature in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (Walker 2005)

    Image 5. Video game depiction of Mansu Musa

    Mansa Musa ruled for 25 years, bringing prosperity and stability to Mali and expanding the empire he inherited. Mali achieved the apex of its territorial expansion under Mansa Musa. The Mali Empire extended from the Atlantic coast in the west to Songhai far down the Niger bend to the east: from the salt mines of Taghaza in the north to the legendary gold mines of Wangara in the south.

    In conclusion He brought stability and good government to Mali, spreading its fame abroad and making it truly “remarkable both for its extent and for its wealth and a striking example of the capacity of black Africans for political organization” (E.W. Bovill, 1958,The Golden Trade of the Moors). His example serves as inspiration as to what Diaspora can achieve today!!

    Image 6. Mansu Musa’s journey 

    Isn’t it ironic that mali is now one of the 25 poorest countries in the world. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated. Timbuktu rose from obscurity to great commercial and cultural importance. It became a centre of learning, one of the foremost centres of Islamic scholarship in the world.


    Cheny, L, V (1994). The end of History. Wall street Journal. 10/20/94

    Crossen, C. (2001). The Rich and How They Got That Way: How the Wealthiest People of All Time—from Genghis Khan to Bill Gates—Made Their Fortunes. Crown Publishing Group

    Conrad, D, C. (2005) Empires Of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, And Songhay (Great Empires of the Past). Facts on file

    Davidson, B. (1995) Africa in history.

    Degraft- Johnson, J,C. African Glory (1998) Black Classic Press.

    Palin, M. (2002) Sahara. BBC

    Walker, R. (2005) When we Ruled the world. Every Generation Media

    Web links:

    Black History pages (2008) Mansa Musa. (Black history pages) [Online] available from:http://blackhistorypages.net/pages/mansamusa.php

    Walker, R. (2005) Mansa Musa of Mali (ruled 1312-1337 AD) (When we Ruled the world.) [Online] available from:http://www.whenweruled.com/articles.php?lng=en&pg=22

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