Musa Keita, born 1280 was the tenth Mansa (Sultan) of the Malian Empire. At the time that Musa ascended the throne, the Malian Empire consisted of territory formerly belonging to Ghanaian Empire in present day Mauritania and Melle (Mali), and the surrounding areas.
Musa’s father had no relevance in Malian history but Musa ascended the throne through a special practice of the king appointing a deputy while he travels for either pilgrimage or an expedition. In Musa’s case, the king before him, Abubakari Keita II appointed Musa to be his deputy as he went on an expedition to discover/explore the limits of the Atlantic Ocean. The king never returned and Musa was made King.
Musa made his pilgrimage between 1324 AD and 1325 AD and his procession had 60,000 men including 12,000 slaves who each carried four pounds of gold bars and heralds dressed in silk, bearing gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags. The king provided everything for the procession, the feeding of all the men and the livestock.
The animals included 80 camels which each carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust. Musa gave the gold to the people he met along his route. Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but he also traded gold for souvenirs.
It is said that it took several months for both his officials and servants to prepare for the 3,000 miles trip from Niani to Makkah. After travelling for eight months, he stopped at Cairo and paid a visit to the Mamluk Sultan, Al-Nasir Muhammad in July, 1324. His precious stones had much impact in Cairo and because of his generosity with them; the price of the metal dropped and took about twenty years to recover.
It was reported that he built a new mosque wherever his journey stopped every Friday for him to worship in. He gave money and gifts to people in obedience to one of the pillars of Islam (Zakat). Having spent everything he had left with in Makkah and Madinah, Mansa Musa artificially restored some of the value of the metal by borrowing all he needed for the return trip from money-lenders in Cairo, at high interest.
West African leaders have made the trip to Mecca before him but the flamboyance about his journey was to advertise his empire to the world. Because of this, he succeeded in bringing some of the Sharifs (Prophet Mohammed’s descendants by Fatima) to live in his empire. Tales of the famous Mansa Musa’s hajj spread widely around the world and fired up the imagination of people like the El Dorado did later.
Under Mansa Musa, Timbuktu became a very great city, having caravan connections with Egypt and all the other notable cities in North Africa. In 1339, Mali appeared on the “Map of the World” and in 1375, another map depicted Mansa Musa seated on his throne in the area south of the Sahara.
Musa strengthened Islam, promoted trade, education and commerce in Mali. He laid the foundations for Timbuktu, Walata and Jenne to become the cultural and commercial centres of Western Sudan, eclipsing the cities of North Africa at the time. According to the Moroccan traveler, Leo Africanus, the inhabitants of the capital, Niani were the most civilized, intelligent and respected of the whole people of West Africa at the time.
He died after spending twenty-five years on the throne in 1337. Until this day, he is still regarded as the richest man that ever lived in the history of the world with an estimated net worth of over US $400 billion followed by the Rothschild family banking dynasty at US $350 billion.