Timbuktu and Mali


Today, Timbuktu means a place from nowhere. It seems to be beyond the end of the known world. It is actually a town in Mali in West Africa. Mali is a poorly governed, impoverished country today. Thomas Friedman in his book discovers that ,even in Mali individuals have started using open-source software and to him it is almost like the final acceptance of the concept of open-source software. Naseruddin Shah fantasises of sending his wife to Timbuktu on his 25th marriage anniversary in Omkara.

But it was not like this six hundred years ago. Mali was then a country of fabled wealth. It was said that gold grew on trees in Mali. It was for about twenty years ruled by Mansa Musa (part of the Mansa family) when it reached the zenith of its glory. Mansa Musa undertook the Haj and went through Egypt. He distributed immense amount of riches wherever he went. Apparently, he gave away so much gold in Egypt that it caused inflation and the price of gold crashed by twenty five per cent.

The world-traveller of those days Ibn Battuta heard so many stories about the Mansa regime that he went to visit the kingdom. This is after he had visited many other countries including India. But even he was astonished by the scale of opulence and grandeur in the palaces.

Around 1360 AD the descendants of Mansa Musa were pitted in a terrible conflict with the descendants of his brother Mansa Suleyman and this led to the ultimate annihilation of the dynasty and the end of the glory for Mali.
This is the ruthless cycle of history. It changes everything.

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