Mansa Musa: The Richest Emperor of Mali

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Mansa Musa was born in 1280 into a family of rulers. His brother, Mansa Abu-Bakr, ruled the empire until 1312, when he abdicated to go on an expedition.

According to 14th Century Syrian historian Shibab al-Umari, Abu-Bakr was obsessed with the Atlantic Ocean and what lay beyond it. He reportedly embarked on an expedition with a fleet of 2,000 ships and thousands of men, women and slaves. They sailed off, never to return. So, Mansa Musa inherited the kingdom he left behind. Under his rule, the kingdom of Mali grew significantly.

His empire, Mali, was a powerful and wealthy state located in West Africa, known for its abundant gold reserves and thriving trade networks. Under Mansa Musa’s rule, Mali reached its zenith both in territorial expansion and cultural achievement.

Though the empire of Mali was home to so much gold, the kingdom itself was not well known. This changed when Mansa Musa, a devout Muslim, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through the Sahara Desert and Egypt.

The king reportedly left Mali with a caravan of 60,000 men. He took his entire royal court and officials, soldiers, griots (entertainers), merchants, camel drivers and 12,000 slaves, as well as a long train of goats and sheep for food. It was a city moving through the desert.

A city whose inhabitants, all the way down to the slaves, were clad in gold brocade and finest Persian silk. A hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold. It was a sight to behold.

Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage was extravagant beyond imagination. He traveled with a vast caravan consisting of thousands of attendants, including soldiers, officials, merchants, and slaves.

And the sight got even more opulent once the caravan reached Cairo, where they really showed off their wealth. Mansa Musa left such a memorable impression on Cairo.

He handed out gold in Cairo so lavishly that his three-month stay caused the price of gold to plummet in the region for 10 years, wrecking the economy.

During his journey, Mansa Musa visited numerous cities and kingdoms, leaving a lasting impression wherever he went. His lavish spending and display of wealth, particularly in gold, cemented his reputation in the annals of history.

 

US-based technology company SmartAsset.com estimates that due to the depreciation of gold, Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage led to about $1.5bn (£1.1bn) of economic losses across the Middle East.

In addition to his wealth and fame, Mansa Musa was also a patron of architecture and education. He sponsored the construction of mosques and Islamic schools throughout his empire, most notably the grand mosque in Timbuktu, which became a center of learning and scholarship.

Mansa Musa’s reign marked a golden age for the Mali Empire. His wealth and influence brought Mali to the attention of the wider world, attracting travelers, traders, and scholars from distant lands. His pilgrimage to Mecca remains one of the most iconic events in African history, showcasing the power and prosperity of Mali under his rule.

Before we conclude, let us highlight some important stuff here

Mali’s Estimated Net Worth: Then and Now

During Mansa Musa’s reign, Mali’s net worth was estimated to be around $400 billion (approximately $1.5 trillion in today’s currency). The empire’s wealth came from its vast gold reserves, thriving trade networks, and strategic location. Mali’s current GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is around $17 billion, with a GDP per capita of approximately $1,200. The country faces significant development challenges, including poverty, political instability, and limited access to education and healthcare.

Why is Mali Poor Today?

Lavish Lifestyle of Mansa Musa: While Mansa Musa’s extravagance was legendary, it also contributed to the empire’s decline. The massive expenditure on his pilgrimage to Mecca and other projects depleted the empire’s resources, opening the eyes of those whose aim was to exploit the richness of the land and the people.

Colonialism: European colonial powers exploited Mali’s resources and disrupted its traditional systems, leaving a lasting impact on the country’s political, economic, and cultural landscape.
Politics: Corruption, political instability, and poor governance have hindered Mali’s development and discouraged investment in the country.

 

What Could Mali Have Done Differently?

Diversify Economy: Mali could have diversified its economy beyond gold and agriculture to reduce its vulnerability to external shocks.

Invest in Human Capital: Investing in education, healthcare, and social services could have developed a skilled workforce and reduced poverty.

Good Governance: Strong institutions, transparency, and accountability could have promoted economic growth and stability.

Other Kingdoms with Similar Histories

The Ottoman Empire: Like Mali, the Ottoman Empire was a vast and wealthy empire that declined due to internal weaknesses and external pressures.
The Mughal Empire: Similar to Mali, the Mughal Empire was a wealthy and powerful empire that fell due to internal conflicts, external invasions, and economic mismanagement.

 

Mali’s story serves as a reminder that even the greatest civilizations can rise and fall. By learning from its past and adopting a more sustainable and inclusive approach to development, Mali can work towards a brighter future.

What do you think Mali can do to overcome its challenges and reclaim its former glory? Share your thoughts!

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