Wealth and Africa don’t usually sit well within the same sentence. This is especially true when it relates to lists of the wealthiest people alive. But, you would be surprised to find out that the Richest Person that ever lived was an African. The Richest Person of all time was an African king – Musa I of the great Mali kingdom. He is commonly known as the Mansa Musa. After adjusting for inflation, his net worth is set at an estimated $400 Billion. This is more than the wealth of Sam Walton, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined. In comparison, Bill Gates, who is currently the richest person alive, is valued at around $76 Billion and Kenya’s economy generates close to $140 Billion annually.
Mansa Musa lived from 1280 – 1337 and ruled the Malian Empire. The empire covered modern day Mali, Ghana, and Timbuktu in West Africa. Mansa Musa who would go on to become the richest king ever was able to secure a seat on the throne after being appointed by Abubakari Keita II as his deputy when he went on an expedition in an attempt to reach the furthest point on the Atlantic ocean. The king never made it back from the expedition and Mansa Musa succeeded him as the 10th Mansa. He made a majority of his wealth through his empire’s Gold and Salt production. Suffice to say that he was the largest Gold producer in the world during that period. At this time, gold had a high demand across Egypt and the Middle East.
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At the peak of his reign, his empire provided more than half of all traded Gold and Salt in the world. Rudolf Ware, an associate professor, who has extensively studied Musa’s wealth, points out that it was impossible for people to describe Musa’s wealth due to how immense it was. “Imagine as much gold as you think a person could possess, and double it. That’s what all accounts of his (Mansa Musa) wealth are trying to communicate.”
News of the Malian Empire’s city of wealth even traveled across the Mediterranean to southern Europe. He built very many mosques across his empire, in fact it is rumored that he built a mosque every Friday. Some of the mosques still stand today 700 years later. Some of the buildings he made during his reign include the ancient center of learning Sankore Madrasah or University of Sankore, and Hall of Audience in Niani.
Musa practiced Islam due to the influence of early Arab traders in the region. In 1324, he made his pilgrimage to Mecca as required by his religion. However, this was not an ordinary pilgrimage and it is still recognized as a historic event. Musa led a procession that was made up of 60,000 men. Each man traveling with Musa had gold bars weighing about 2 kgs. The travelers also brought with them thousands of cattle. Those animals included 80 camels which each carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust. All this was funded by the Mansa from his own personal wealth. He gave the gold bars to the poor he met along the way – especially those living in the Egyptian empire.
However, he gave away so much gold that he caused an economic depression in the region. In those days, gold was among the main standards of exchange. The value of most items was hinged on the value of precious metals such as gold. Gold was in such large amounts that the value dropped drastically. The value of gold had to be devalued in cities such as Mecca, Cairo, and Medina for the next decade. To rectify the price of gold in the market, Musa borrowed at a high-interest rate as much gold as he could carry from lenders in Cairo.
Ultimately, Mansa Musa went on to build very large cities, expand his empire, and develop some of the best learning centers and mosques in the world. Most notably, the ancient center of learning (University of Sankore) was built during his reign. Musa left behind a thriving dynasty when he died in 1331, but his heirs were unable to manage his massive fortune. Invading armies and civil wars greatly depleted the empire. Nevertheless, the university and mosque still stand in Timbuktu today.
Image Credit: Flickr