Mansa Musa ruled the Kingdom of Mali from 1312 to 1337. At the time of Musa’s ascension to the throne, Mali consisted of the territory of the former Ghana Empire, which Mali had conquered two hundred years earlier. Mansa Musa also had Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, and The Gambia under his control. The Mali Empire was situated at the centre of trade in West Africa. Mansa Musa’s wealth is difficult to clearly define but historians estimate his net worth to be at least $400 billion. Because the Mali Empire was a hub for trade, the kingdom controlled the gold and salt trades in the region. Known for his generosity to the poor and needy, Musa’s lavish giving massively affected the Egyptian economy in 1324 and led them into an economic recession.
Mansa Musa was a devout and dedicated Muslim. It was reported that he built a mosque every Friday. In addition, Musa’s foremost desire was to create close ties between his kingdom and the wider Muslim world. He became the first West African ruler to make the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Mansa Musa had made plans to trek across Africa to visit the holy city in 1324.
When Musa left for the hajj, he left his son Muhammad to rule in his absence. He took with him a big caravan and a vast amount of gold. He made his pilgrimage between 1324 and 1325 spanning 2,700 miles. His procession consisted of 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves. Each of them carried 1.8 kg (4lb) of gold bars. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. As he made his way to Mecca, he met with other rulers across North Africa. He stopped at Cairo, the capital of Egypt, where he interfaced with Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad in July of 1324. Musa then went on a shopping spree and showered the people with gifts. He gave gold to the cities he passed along his way, including Cairo and Medina. He also traded gold for souvenirs. For any person he encountered, he will hand him a bar of gold.
Unknowing to the King, his genuine intention of helping the poor had done severe damage to the economy of Egypt. Because of the massive influx of gold, there was a significant devaluation of the mineral and it caused the price of gold to inflate. The event plunged Egypt into a ten-year recession.
When Mansa Musa returned from Mecca, he was told of the consequence of his spending. He went back to buying all the gold he could from moneylenders in Cairo at a considerable interest rate. That action helped relieve the inflation damage and saved Egypt from complete economic damage.
The story of how a rule personally affected the price of gold in Egypt spread vastly across the Muslim world and made Mansa Musa more famous. It raised Mali to a reputable position in the global society. Some scholars opined that Mansa Musa’s action in Egypt may have been intentional. Egypt was the major trade centre of the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, being able to show the possibility of single-handedly affecting the economy of such a vast civilization was an exhibition of power.
As to whether the King’s move was deliberate, we may never know. However, under Mansa Musa’s leadership, Mali was one of the wealthiest states in history.