The richest man in history; a Black man ? Get out of here!
Celebrating the richest man in history; Mansa Musa or…. Not.
By Aunkh Aakhu
Could you seriously imagine a Black man or woman topping the Forbes wealthiest people in the world list?
It’s so rare to talk about Black people in the context of wealth unless we are talking about athletes and entertainers that I was stunned when it was announced last year by the Huffington Post that the richest man in history was Mansa Musa a king and administrator extraordinaire from Mali. He ruled in the 1300’s long before the slave trade got underway.
So if you are like me when you heard that the richest man in the world was a Black man and that pretty much no other Black people are even close to that list, it smacked of well…..just how did that happen?
Apparently Mansa Musa was a fourth generation leader of a dynasty that controlled much of the wealth of Mali , which as it turned out becomes a key player in human history in general and for revealing Black contributions to the history of global business as well as being the home of the famed Timbuktu. The first question that comes to mind after you figure out exactly who Mansa Musa was is, why are folks calling him the richest man in history some 700+ years after his death? Who can remember that far back? How did they estimate that he was several times wealthier than Bill Gates? This is an incredible story that movies should be made about it to reset the story of who were Black people before slavery. This was about 200 hundred years before the transatlantic slave trade and this guy was living large; blinged out, had a super swag as we say in modern terms. Maybe because it is history it hasn’t got the fanfare as has the election of Barack Obama but it certainly ranks up there in changing the way we are perceived in the world and how African Americans should perceive ourselves in terms of possibility.
A Black man was declared the wealthiest man ever and from what we know he did not get it through contracts and endorsements. As a matter of fact he was known as a shrewd business administrator that expanded tremendously his family’s empire and domination of salt and gold. In the age where we praise wealth to such a fanatical degree it’s amazing that this has gone under the radar of Black history. But one could wonder what kind of inspiration it would serve our young people to know that the richest person ever…… looked like them. According to the Post he had an estimated net worth which in today’s world would be 400 billion dollars ironically almost as much as all African countries put together, almost unfathomable to think about.
I asked myself why they would even mention Mansa Musa in the context of wealth, given so much has been denied historically. Well apparently he as a devout Muslim who took a pilgrimage to mecca that shook the world because of his extraordinary opulence. He took and gave away so much gold that he destabilized its prices in the Middle East for years. His trip became legendary largely because it informed many Arabs and Europeans alike about the tremendous wealth in the interior of Africa where few had traveled up to that point. Africa became for many of them the “promised land”.
The significance of this of course is that it paints a very different picture of who Black people were pre transatlantic slavery. The old images of swinging from trees will have to wane in the face of this kind of info. Even the humble in his empire was doing really well for that time and maybe for any time. It turns out that Black people through the process of slavery did not just disconnect from the history of Africa but also the knowledge of a land and a time of untold wealth. This may be Black History’s greatest untold secret. When we look at the state of Black businesses today it’s hard to imagine that these are the descendants of some of the wealthiest empires the world has ever known…and perhaps that’s why we find ourselves in the predicament we are in. It is said that once Mansa Musa died the wealth disappeared through invasions. The African American community of business has often wrestled with the fear of success. Could this explain some of the lethargic energy plaguing our community? Are we suffering from the residual impact of the loss (and perhaps looting and stealing) of fantastically prosperous empires? Then maybe as we celebrate the wealthiest man in history we should internalize the lessons of awakening the world to an awareness of your wealth. Some may say its all in the past leave it there, but if others can remember a Black man’s wealth 700 years later, I say we owe to ourselves to remember the lessons of his life. As the great historian John Henrik Clark told us, “history is a current event”.