If He Was Alive Today, He Would Still Be the World Riches Person
In a lunchtime conversation yesterday, most of my colleagues seemed to think Aliko Dangote is the wealthiest African of all time.
Most were surprised to learn that Africa's wealthiest man of all time is also the world's wealthiest man of all time.
He was wealthier than Augustus Caesar (the wealthiest European of all time), Genghis Khan (the wealthiest Asian of all time), and Zhao Zhongzhen (the wealthiest Chinese of all time); and his name is Mansa Musa.
Mansa Musa was the emperor of Mali between 1312 and 1337, and, during his reign, he amassed a personal fortune that has earned him the title of the richest man who ever lived. The exact value of his wealth is disputed, but he is estimated to have been worth at least US$500 billion. (According to Forbes, Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, is worth US$171 billion).
Mansa Musa is famous for converting his West African Empire into a world-famous centre of commerce, learning, and architecture.
The Empire of Mali was a huge territory that comprised present-day Mali and Mauritania (and parts of present-day Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad).
During his reign, the city of Timbuktu became an important destination of traders from the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. The University of Sankore (the first university in what we call Sub-Saharan Africa) became one of the most sought-after institutions of Islamic learning in the Islamic world.
At that time, the gold coin was the world's standard currency; and his kingdom was the world's largest producer of gold.
The legend of Mansa Musa's wealth became most pronounced during his pilgrimage to Mecca between 1324 and 1325. Stories of this trip are based on oral tradition and several written accounts, and most of them agree on the scale and extravagance of his entourage.
His procession comprised 60,000 people and 300 camels. Each person carried 4 bars of gold, and each camel had 100 kg of gold dust.
Along the way, he donated some of it to the poor, exchanged some of it for souvenirs, and, wherever his entourage stopped for Friday prayers, he built a mosque.
However, as generous as his actions might seem, they devastated the economies of most of present-day North Africa and the Middle East. The sudden over-supply of gold eroded its purchasing power, leading to a currency crisis in most nations along his path.
For example, his extended stay in Cairo, Medina, and Mecca caused the collapse of the value of gold as prices of goods and services rose sharply in an attempt to adjust to the amount of gold flowing through local populations. In Egypt, it took 20 years for gold to recover its value.
However, it is not for his vast wealth that Mansa Musa is most remembered. His most enduring legacy is his conversion of Mali into a world-famous centre of commerce, education, and culture.
During his trip to Mecca, the story of his wealth and his lavish spending spread throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. When traders in these places heard about it, they organized caravans and travelled to Timbuktu to make their fortune in the Empire of Mali.
Additionally, on his return from Mecca, he brought back architects who helped build mosques, educational institutions, and libraries. One of these is the Sankore University, which, during Mansa Musa's time, attracted students and scholars from North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, had one of the largest libraries in the world.
It is Mansa Musa who put Africa on the world map. He was so famous that in 1375, his picture - holding a gold coin - was included in the Catalan Atlas published in Spain.