Recently Jeff Bezos has been named as becoming the richest man ever.
While I have several thoughts on how he's attained his wealth by capitalizing on cheap labor, poor working conditions, a lack of health benefits, and minimum wage: I'd like to tell you about a Black man named Mansa Musa and what it looked like when the worlds richest man invested in his community. Unsurprisingly these articles about Jeff Besos neglect to mention Mansa Musa whose net worth on today's scale would be calculated at $400 Billion Dollars.
In 1312 a man named Musa became emperor following the death of his predecessor, Abu-Bakr II. Abu-Bakr was lost at sea while exploring the Atlantic. When he was crowned he was given the name Mansa which is a Mandinka word for ruler, sultan, or emperor. His kingdom was already well to do, but it was his work in investing in and expanding his kingdom through gold and salt mining, ivory, and trade that made him the richest king in history. Mansa Musa's reign was an era of peace and prosperity for his people.
Mansa Musa was well versed in Arabic and was described as a Muslim traditionalist. He became the first Muslim ruler in West Africa to make the 4,000 mile journey to Mecca which took years of preparation. The expedition began in 1324 with thousands of escorts. He brought quantities of gold which was distributed along the journey. Arab writers from the time said that each of his camels carried 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of gold.
Included in his large posse of 60,000 were 12,000 extravagantly dressed servants and supporters. Musa made hefty donations to the poor and to charitable organizations as well as the rulers of the lands his entourage crossed. On his stop in Cairo, Egypt, the Egyptian empire to great notice of Mansa Musa and sought to meet him. Mansa Musa invested so much gold to the communities that he generated a brief decline in value of Egyptian metals.
When he returned to his home he brought scholars, architects, and bureaucrats. One person of note who accompanied his return was architect Ishaq El Teudjin. He introduced advanced building techniques to Mali. He designed numerous buildings for Mansa Musa which included a palace named Madagou, the mosque at Gao, the second largest city in Mali, and the still-standing great mosque at Timbuktu, the largest city in the empire. That mosque was named the Djinguereber. El Teudjin’s most famous design was the Emperor’s chamber at the Malian capital of Niani. Over the years it also became a center for the teaching of Islamic philosophy and law, paving the way for the later University of Sankore, in addition to bringing increased commerce and scholars, poets, and artisans.
This trip boosted education, architecture, trade, wealth, and peace to all who lived throughout his kingdom. It brought Mansa Musa to the attention of Europe making him a global phenom for the next two centuries and awakened the world to the riches of Subsaharan Africa. By the late 14th century, Musa had been drawn in the 1375 Catalan Atlas, an important resource for navigators of Medieval Europe. Created by Spanish cartographer Abraham Cresques, the atlas depicted Musa sitting on a throne with a gold scepter, crown, and holding a gold nugget.
By the end of his reign, Musa had built the largest library the world had seen since the great Library of Alexandria. It was known as Sankore University, and it could hold over 25,000 pupils and more than one million different manuscripts. This would help Mali become a vital point of education and culture in the Muslim world.
Yes, Mansa Musa owned slaves. According to scholars, slavery before the invention of chattel slavery through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was a Western concept. In Subsaharan Africa, slaves worked within their communities and could be traded for labor, but were also able to earn their freedom. Slavery was not a connotation of skin tone and ethnicity, but a form of indentured servitude, or a result as prisoners of war. In such societies the village, or a confederation of villages, was the largest political unit. A range of positions of authority existed within these villages, but no one person or group claimed the positions of ruler or monarchy. According to historian Walter Hawthorne, in this context, local government worked through group consensus. Many of these small-scale, decentralized societies most often rejected slaveholding. Mansa Musa was a man of peace and opportunity. It wasn't until "The New World" stepped in that slavery became the horrific entity on a global scale that we know of today.
The history of this Black man is incredibly significant for many reasons. First, the richest person in world history was a black man. Secondly, he shared his wealth which resulted in his kingdom flourishing. When you invest in your community your community invests in you. Jeff Bezos, a white man, is the face of capitalism and has been rewarded a title that he did not earn. Once again we see the accomplishments of black history being neglected so White America can claim it is the best. While the world suffers in hunger, disease, and war, many are looking to the 1% to support the communities that need it most.
Though Mansa Musa is known for his wealth, historians state that what he is revered amongst those who know his story is for his faith and promotion of scholarship. Though he was heavily religious, he did not force his beliefs onto his people. The Muslim faith was only the official faith of Mali's nobility.
That is the answer to healing the open wounds of the stain of white supremacy. Peace, education, and the sharing of wealth. When a nation doesn't truly believe in anything, it will fall for everything. I hope that Bezos puts his fortune to good use.