Tue | May 28, 2024

Imani Tafari-Ama | One Love, equal rights and justice

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2024 | 12:06 AM

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Kingsley Ben-Adir in “Bob Marley: One Love.”
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Kingsley Ben-Adir in “Bob Marley: One Love.”

The Bob Marley: One Love blockbuster movie opened in theatres across the globe on Valentine’s Day. It resurrected a Rastafari concept that provides a potent counternarrative to the popular use of violence as a power mechanism. Bob Marley: One Love represents a resistance counter-culture strategy against tyrants who have exercised authority over vulnerable peoples for centuries. However, Rastafari brethren like Mutabaruka raised objections to the movie’s manipulation of the One Love message. He contends that this portrays the more pacifist and politically palatable version of the Rasta cosmology and downplays the more militant mantra of equal rights and justice that Rastafari have also advocated, with even more passion.

The Marley family’s triumph over their tribulations and successful empire building provides a compelling theme of hope in these times of scarce success stories. However, the love theme was subverted by the shocking snaking of political violence through the volatile story. The sight of Rita slumped over the steering wheel from a shot to the head and the blistering attack on Bob and Don Taylor were disturbing reminders of one of the ugliest eras in Jamaica’s modern history.

The gun violence reminded older folks and informed youth in the audience of the tumultuous 1970s, which saw a spiralling of gun violence in the inner-city areas known as garrisons. This naming is a code defining the affiliation of gun-wielding gangsters with the political machinery of the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The partisan weaponisation of scarce benefits and spoils like housing and jobs, rewarded the enforcers of a divide and rule model of power for deadly disruptions.


Politically motivated feuds initiated in this era have morphed into today’s entrenched gang violence. This menacing threat has defied the management capabilities of successive ministers of national security. The Marley biopic invited the audience to recall the turbulent eight years between 1972 and 1980, which saw a watershed explosion in the availability and use of guns to silence perceived enemies. Tragically, all too often, rivals shared common cultural bonds. Demands for accountability and transitional justice from the perpetrators, politicians and the external interests that produce the weapons of human destruction have fallen on deaf ears.

During the fateful decade of the ‘70s, hardcore activist Claudie Massop controlled Tivoli Gardens, the JLP-identified area of western Kingston. His rival, the equally tough Bucky Marshall, dominated the PNP stronghold of Kingston Pen. During the chaos, the socially stabilising influence of Rastafari was attractive for the Peace and Love vibe that directly counteracted the axis of War and Hate.

Following in the footsteps of Marcus Garvey, Rastafari reclaimed race as a site of struggle and resistance. This approach provided an alternative identity choice to the influential violence. Rastafari encouraged rival gangs to make peace instead of taking ‘blood for blood’ and fighting ‘fire with fire’.

Rastafari also provided the spiritual grounding that is studiously avoided in the political realm. However, this energy was crucially needed to put the conflicts on pause. Leaders persuaded the partisan gunmen from both sides to share ‘peace pipes’ and reason about the bread-and-butter and life-and-death issues at stake in the garrisons. After evaluating the ways in which they had, senselessly, been fighting against each other, the top-ranking, political gunmen decided to call a halt to hostilities.

Much to the astonishment of the politicians, the conflicted communities and the society at large, the warlords came together in a determined effort to end the bloodbath that had been unleashed on the inner-city communities. In the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Peace Treaty, the street fighters wanted Bob Marley to headline a special concert to mark the occasion.


Bob’s autobiographical hit song, Ambush in the Night, alludes to the gun attack a mere two days before his scheduled performance at the PNP-sponsored ‘Smile Jamaica’ concert, which heralded the 1976 general election. As told in the Bob Marley: One Love movie, the attack came two days before the event. It was interpreted as politically motivated because Bob was seen as supportive of the PNP. Despite the attack, Marley and the Wailers prevailed and still performed for an 80,000 strong crowd. However, to avoid further political entanglement, Marley subsequently left Jamaica and resided in England for a few years.

When Massop personally invited him to perform at the politically unprecedented Peace Concert, Bob Marley did not hesitate to do so. He returned to Jamaica to headline the show, officially titled ‘The One Love Concert’ and popularly known as the Peace Concert. The National Stadium in Kingston was the venue for the mammoth event, which was staged on April 21, 1978, the 12th anniversary, to the day, of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I’s arrival on his 1966 State Visit to Jamaica. The open-air stadium was the site of the civic welcome ceremony put on for the visiting Ethiopian regent by the government and people in the Jamaican capital.

The historic Peace Concert brought together opposing political leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, as well as the gang leaders themselves. It was Peter Tosh who verbalised the social agenda of the poor in an explicitly candid tirade during his set. And, under a full moon with a natural mystic blowing through the air, Bob Marley was captured for posterity by all the cameras, holding aloft, above his head, the joined hands of Jamaica’s opposing political leaders as a symbol of unity.

Despite the spiritually loaded shot in the arm of Rastafari philosophy and pragmatic politics, inner-city peace proved easier to broker than to maintain. In the aftermath of the highly successful concert, the leaders of the said peace effort were unceremoniously and brutally eliminated, bringing the notoriety they had enjoyed to an abrupt end. Today, they are only remembered by the elders. Tosh would later sing critically that all who signed the peace treaty now resting in peace in the cemetery.

The success of the Bob Marley: One Love movie signals an uptick in spiritual consciousness. Even if it is just marketing expediency, Bob Marley and Rastafari strike globally relevant moral high ground chords. This trend could also influence today’s gun-toting youth to reject violence as a way of expressing manhood. However, according to Peter Tosh, achieving peace is dependent on the establishment of a political and socio-economic system that guarantees each citizen the benefits of equal rights and justice.

Imani Tafari-Ama, PhD, is a Pan-African advocate and gender and development specialist. Send feedback to i.tafariama@gmail.com