Bob Marley of the Wailers. A new documentary highlights the 60th anniversary celebration of his birth that took place in Ethiopia in 2005.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
PANW Editor's Note: The following article was written in commemoration of the 60th birthday of Robert Nesta Marley which was celebrated in Ethiopia in February of 2005. It is being reprinted in honour of his 63rd birthday.
Bob Marley, Pan-Africanism and the Struggle for World Peace
60th anniversary celebrations confirm the legacy of the late international poet and superstar
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
February 6, 2005, represented the 60th anniversary of the birth of the late Robert Nesta Marley who was born in the Caribbean island-nation of Jamaica in 1945.
The year of Marley's birth was also the same as the conclusion of World War II, a period which ushered in the contemporary struggle of Africans and other oppressed peoples to emancipate themselves from the shackles of colonialism, apartheid, institutional racism and minortiy rule.
In October of 1945, the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester, England, where activists such as George Padmore of Trinidad, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana-Africa and W.E.B. Dubois of the United States came together to map out an international campaign aimed at national independence and socialism.
By 1947 Nkrumah was back in Ghana after 12 years as a student and activist in the United States and the UK. Only tens years later, 1957, he stood before the people of Ghana on the eve of their hard won independence and declared that "the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total independence of the African continent."
At the beginning of the 1960s inside the United States, thousands of African-American students were taking an increasingly militant stance against segregation and the disenfranchisement of their people nearly 100 years after the legal abolition of slavery. This movement, which became known as the struggle for civil rights, influenced not only developments in America, but throughout the world. Those who saw that the sons and daughters of former slaves could effectively take a stand against centuries-old injustice and exploitation knew they could affect change in their own geo-political regions.
Bob Marley emerged from the independence struggles of the
Caribbean during the 1950s and 1960s, where the legacies of Paul Bogle, Marcus Garvey, Amy Jacques-Garvey, C.L.R. James, Fidel Castro and others provided inspiration to a new generation of activists and artists who sought with impatience to rapidly liberate their people from national oppression.
Although Marley never declared himself a politician or prophet, his music was very much reflective of the times. It inspired the people to not only recognize the continuation of the struggle for liberation and social justice but to take up the international call to reverse the social processes of colonialism and neo-colonialism. He adopted the Rastafari faith which emphasized the philosphy of Marcus Garvey and the deification of Haile Selassie I as symbols of the resistance of African peoples to white world supremacy and hegemony.
For a people in the Caribbean who had been stolen from their African homeland during the period of slavery from the 15th to the 19th centuries, to place the identification with Africa and its liberation and unity as the primary ideological point of departure, clearly signalled that the propaganda of the global elites had not totally obliterated the social consciousness and national will of the oppressed.
Bob Marley and the Pan-African Struggle
Marley's identification with Africa through the Rastafari movement coupled with a keen awareness of political developments during the 1960s, served to inspire the character and tone of his music. In addition, the impact of the African-American struggle for civil rights and black power influenced political currents in the Caribbean.
It was in the United States during the 1920s that the Jamaican born Marcus Garvey settled and gained his most significant support and organizational base. Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) recruited millions of members and supporters in the US and played a monumental role in changing the character of the social consciousness during the post World War I period.
The so-called "Harlem Renaissance" of the post World War I period intersected with Garveyism in the quest for cultural awareness among the African people. During the same time period, the activist scholarship of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Week, later named Black History Month, and the work of W.E.B. Dubois, enhanced the intellectual capital of the African peoples arming them with the knowledge they would need to carry on the fight for freedom.
After the deportation of Garvey from the United States on trumped-up charges in 1927, the struggle for pan-africanism would continue through the work of George Padmore who utilized the international workers movement to study and organize the people aimed at the destruction of colonialism.
C.L.R. James would chronicle the Haitian Revolution of the 19th century as an act of intellectual independence and to illustrate the relationship between the struggle of the slavery era and that of the mid-twentieth century. He would then draw a nexus between all struggles waged by the African peoples whether they be in the United States, the Caribbean or the African continent. All of these popular revolts were interconnected and would lead to a global movement that changed the course of human history and consciousness.
A further illustration of the pan-african character of the emergence of Marley, reggae and the rastafari movement as a social force is marked by the influence of US-based popular musicians such as Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Berry Gordy on the young emerging artists of Jamaica.
When Stokely Carmichael, who had Trinidadian roots, popularized the black power slogan in 1966, it had a profound impact on the youth of the Caribbean. By 1968 Jamaica would see the emergence of its own black rebellion under neo-colonialism. Guyanese-born scholar-activist Walter Rodney would be forced to leave Jamaica and return to Tanzania in 1968. In 1970 this black power movement would manifest itself throughout the Caribbean with mass revolt and the call for genuine liberation outside the ideological sphere of America and the United Kingdom.
By the 1970s the African liberation movements were in full force. A campaign of solidarity would emerge as a dominant political tendency in the United States and the Caribbean. The youth of South Africa in 1976 through their popular protests and rebellion would enhance pan-african solidarity and global support for majority rule throughout the sub-continent. This same year Bob Marley and Wailers released the legendary album "Rastaman Vibration."
On this LP the song "War" caught the attention of the youth of the western hemisphere and the world. This song included the words of a speech delivered by the then late Emperor Haile Selassie some years before at the United Nations. "We Africans will fight, we find it necessary...," Marley said.
By 1980 a major victory had been won in the struggle for national independence in Zimbabwe. Marley had released the "Survival" album in 1979 which included the song "Zimbabwe" that championed the armed struggle of the Patriotic Front as the real revolutionaries who deserved the global support of the people. Marley would travel to Zimbabwe for the independence celebration in 1980, a milestone in his performance career being highlighted as the principle artist exemplifying the world's solidarity with the peoples of southern Africa.
Marley's Legacy and the Struggle for World Peace
The eradication of direct colonialism and apartheid in Africa by 1994 represented the culmination of the movement towards liberation that intensified after the 1945 Pan-African Congress at Manchester. Despite these victories the imperialist powers would seek new avenues of domination and
The first Gulf War of 1991 ushered in a new phase of imperialist war and hegemony. With the massive bombing of Iraq, the occupation of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by the United States military, the lines were being drawn for the international forces of anti-colonialism and liberation. America's occupation of Somalia in 1992-93 was met with massive resistance forcing their unconditional withdrawl. During the 1990s hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would die as a result of the draconian economic sanctions imposed upon them by the United Nations at the aegis of the American government.
In Africa the economic hegemony of western nations would spark conflicts in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the horn of Africa and in the west African region in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Multitudes would succumb to the ravages of war and plunder. At the same time the unholy alliance of the United States and Israel would continue the occupation of Palestine and the denial of the people of their inherent right to self-determination.
The continuing economic crisis of US imperialism would lead them into an disastrous war against Iraq and Afghanistan. When Haiti should have been celebrating its 200th anniversary of independence from France, the Americans engineered a destabilization campaign and the later occupation of this Caribbean nation.
The concept of pre-emptive war would become the cornerstone of the new American foreign policy. Permanent war is the continued theme of the Bush administration. By starving the African and other oppressed peoples around the world, the US administration has set war and occupation as vital to its continued existence.
However, this policy of American aggression and occupation has been met with mass protest on an unprecedented scale. Between the spring of 2002 and the summer of 2004, tens of millions of people in the western capitals in solidarity with their allies throughout the so-called developing world have demonstrated their burning desire for world peace and the total elimination of American hegemony. The peoples of Afghanisan and Iraq have continued their resistance to these occupations by the American military and its allies.
Even prior to the occupation of Iraq, on February 15, 2003, the largest world demonstrations for peace occured. These demonstrations have continued throughout the course of the illegal occupation. In Iraq itself the Americans have suffered nearly 4,000 officially reported deaths, over 40,000 casualties and another 200,000 who will be inflicted for the rest of their lives with post traumatic stress disorder. All of this is occuring while the American economy suffers its worst decline since the great depression.
Marley's message of peace, solidarity and redemption is more significant today in the 21st century than in any period in recent history. There can be much inspiration gained from his lyrics and music. A rejection of crass materialism and consumerism, the upholding of the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination, the necessity for solidarity with the African continent and other developing regions, the continued struggle for civil and human rights in North America and the ability of the peoples of Africa to reclaim their historical identity and social equilibrium is the mandate left by Marley.
It is most appropriate that the 60th anniversary birthday commemorations were held in 2005 in Ethiopia. A nation and region which has been challenged with all of the questions that the legacy of Marley represents, will be forced to take notice of the unfinished business of national liberation and pan-african unity.
Marley therefore continues to speak to us from the grave. His legacy calls upon today's cultural and political warriors to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for no one else can free our minds. Consequently, we must liberate modern society from the legacy of slavery, colonialism, racism, war and apartheid. A new world must be created where humanity can define itself outside the boundaries of pre-emptive conflict and the hegemony of a elite minority bent on the destruction of the planet in the false pursuit of profit and global hegemony.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the founder and editor of the Pan-African News Wire. In 2002 Azikiwe was a co-founder the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), an organization committed to the withdrawl of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. As a broadcast journalist and author, this activist's articles, opinions and commentaries have been made available to people throughout the international community.