Mansa Kankan Musa

Mansa Kankan Musa(1312-1337 AD) , ‘The Lion of Mali’ was the tenth mansa, better known as “king of kings” or “emperor”, of the Malian Empire of Mali West Africa. He became one of the most powerful and wealthiest leaders of his time. He made Mali’s name renowned in the imaginations of European and Islamic countries In the 14th century.
The wealth he commanded, social customs and grandeur of his court, led to the kingdom of Mali being internationally revered (Cheney 2004)

He is most noted for his pilgrimage to Mecca which put Mali on the map, Degraft-Johnson (1998) noted, ‘It was in 1324 … that the world awoke to the splendour and grandeur of Mali. There across the African desert, and making its way to Mecca, was a caravan of a size which had never before been seen, a caravan consisting of 60,000 men. They were Mansa Musa’s men, and Mansa Musa was with them. He was not going to war: he was merely going to worship at Mecca. The huge caravan included a personal retinue of 12,000 servants, all dressed in brocade and Persian silk. Mansa Musa himself rode on horseback, and directly preceding him were 500 servants, each carrying a staff of gold weighing about six pounds (500 mitkal). In Egypt, Musa spent so much money in gold that he devastated that nation’s economy. For years after Mansa Musa’s visit, ordinary people in the streets of Cairo, Mecca, and Baghdad talked about this wonderful pilgrimage - a pilgrimage which led to the devaluation of gold in the Middle East for several years.”
Cynthia Crossen wrote in her book ‘The Rich’ ,”You’ve heard about the extraordinary wealth of Bill Gates, J. P. Morgan, and the sultan of Brunei, but have you heard of Mansa Musa, one of the richest men who ever lived?. He was Neither producer nor inventor, Mansa Musa was an early broker, greasing the wheels of intercultural trade. He created wealth by making it possible for others to buy and sell”. Basil Davidson suggested that the rulers of Mali were “rumoured to have been the wealthiest men on the face of the earth” (Davidson 1995).

 Mansa Musa presiding over his Kingdom

His pilgrimage planted Mali in men’s minds and its riches fired up the imagination. In 1339, Mali appeared on a “Map of the World”. In 1367, another map of the world showed a road leading from North Africa through the Atlas Mountains into the Western Sudan. In 1375 a third map of the world showed a richly attired monarch holding a large gold nugget in the area south of the Sahara. Also, trade between Egypt and Mali flourished (Black History Pages 2008). On his return from Mecca he brought back with him an Arabic library, religious scholars, and architects, who helped him build a royal palace universities, libraries and mosques all over his kingdom (Black History Pages 2oo8). For example the mosque of the University of Sankore was highly distinguished for the teaching of Koranic theology and law, besides other subjects such as astronomy and mathematics. Micheal Palin, a BBC programme maker noted In 2002 on his return from Timbuktu reported that the Great Mosque of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years … It is convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe”. Furthermore he went on to say “In the 15th century in Timbuktu, the mathematicians knew about the details of the eclipse, knew things which we had to wait for 150, almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it” (Palin 2002).

 Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mali Empire in the 14th century, from a 1375 Catalan Atlas of the known world (mapamundi), drawn by Abraham Cresques of Mallorca. Musa is shown holding a gold nugget and a European-style crown.

 He strengthened Islam and promoted education, trade, and commerce in Mali. Laying the foundations for Walata, Jenne, and Timbuktu to become the cultural and commercial centers of North Africa (Walker 2005). Infact Timbuktu became one of the major cultural centers of not only Africa but of the entire Islamic world producing Arabic-language black literature in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (Walker 2005)

 Mansu Musa on his pilgrimage to Mecca

Mansa Musa ruled for 25 years, bringing prosperity and stability to Mali and expanding the empire he inherited. Mali achieved the apex of its territorial expansion under Mansa Musa. The Mali Empire extended from the Atlantic coast in the west to Songhai far down the Niger bend to the east: from the salt mines of Taghaza in the north to the legendary gold mines of Wangara in the south.
In conclusion He brought stability and good government to Mali, spreading its fame abroad and making it truly “remarkable both for its extent and for its wealth and a striking example of the capacity of black Africans for political organization” (E.W. Bovill, 1958,The Golden Trade of the Moors). His example serves as inspiration as to what Diaspora can achieve today!!

See Map of Mali

Image 6. Mansu Musa’s journey
Isn’t it ironic that mali is now one of the 25 poorest countries in the world. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated. Timbuktu rose from obscurity to great commercial and cultural importance. It became a centre of learning, one of the foremost centres of Islamic scholarship in the world.
Cheny, L, V (1994). The end of History. Wall street Journal. 10/20/94
Crossen, C. (2001). The Rich and How They Got That Way: How the Wealthiest People of All Time—from Genghis Khan to Bill Gates—Made Their Fortunes. Crown Publishing Group
Conrad, D, C. (2005) Empires Of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, And Songhay (Great Empires of the Past). Facts on file
Davidson, B. (1995) Africa in history.
Degraft- Johnson, J,C. African Glory (1998) Black Classic Press.
Palin, M. (2002) Sahara. BBC
Walker, R. (2005) When we Ruled the world. Every Generation Media
Web links:
Black History pages (2008) Mansa Musa. (Black history pages) [Online] available from:
Walker, R. (2005) Mansa Musa of Mali (ruled 1312-1337 AD) (When we Ruled the world.) [Online] available from:

Mali was now a power of more than local or even regional significance. Under Mansa Musa, Mali ambassadors were established in Morocco, Egypt, and elsewhere. Mali's capital was visited by North African and Egyptian scholars. On returning from pilgrimage, Musa brought back with him a number of learned men from Egypt. These settled in Mali and Timbuktu. One of them, called as-Saheli, designed new mosques at Gao and Timbuktu, and built a palace for the emperor. The fashion of building houses in brick now began to be popular among wealthy people in the cities of the Western Sudan.

From al-Omari, Masalik al Absar fi Mamalik al Amsar, in the French version of Gaudefroy-Demombynes (Paris: 1927). Translated by Basil Davidson, The African Past (1964):

The Empire of Mali

The title he prefers is that of lord of Mali, the largest of his states; it is the name by which he is most known. He is the most important of the Muslim Negro kings; his land is the largest, his army the most numerous . . .

Reception at Court

The sultan of this kingdom presides in his palace on a great balcony call bembre where he has a great seat of ebony that is like a throne fit for a large and tall person: on either side it is flanked by elephant tusks turned towards each other. His arms stand near him, being all of gold, saber, lance, quiver, bow and arrows. He wears wide trousers made of about twenty pieces of a kind which he alone may wear. Behind him there stand about a score of Turkish or other pages which are bought for him in Cairo: one of them, at his left, holds a silk umbrella surmounted by a dome and a bird of gold: the bird has the figure of a falcon. His officers are seated in a circle about him, in two rows, one to the right and one to the left; beyond them sit the chief commanders of his cavalry. In front of him there is a person who never leaves him and who is his executioner; also another who serves as intermediary between the sovereign and his subjects, and who is named the herald. In front of them again, there are drummers. Others dance before their sovereign, who enjoys this, and make him laugh. Two banners are spread behind him. Before him they keep saddled and bridled horses in case he should wish to ride.

The Importance of Horses

Arab horses are brought for sale to the kings of this country, who spend considerable sums in this way. Their army numbers one hundred thousand men of whom there are about ten thousand horse-mounted cavalry . . . the officers of this king, his soldiers and his guard receive gifts of land and presents. Some among the greatest of them receive as much as fifty thousand mitqals of gold a year, besides which the king provides them with horses and clothing. He is much concerned with giving them fine garments and making his cities into capitals.

Niani, the capital of all this empire, has long since disappeared. Yet as late as the sixteenth century, the Moroccan traveller Leo Africanus (Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan az-Zayyati) could still describe it as a place of 'six thousand hearths', and its inhabitants as 'the most civilized, intelligent and respected' of all the peoples of the Western Sudan. The spread of Islam also called for new methods of rule. Mansa Musa opened courts of law for Muslims, alongside the old courts of law for those who were not Muslims.
(Davidson 1998)

In 1337, Maghan Musa inherited the empire from his father at the height of its glory. He reigned for only four years before being succeeded by his uncle Suleyman and mansa of the Mali Empire from 1341 to 1360. 

The death of Mansa Kankan Musa is still highly debated among modern historians and the Arab scholars who recorded the history of Mali.