February 6, 2005
ARTICLE: Protests cloud Marley celebration
Here's an article from Scotland on Sunday on some of the underlying grievances in the Rasta community here in Ethiopia.
Protests cloud Marley celebration
IN ADDIS ABABA
ETHIOPIA'S tiny Rastafarian community launched a string of bitter protests against the country's government yesterday, casting a shadow over huge celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the birth of their Reggae icon Bob Marley.
A list of long-standing grievances, calling for full Ethiopian citizenship and the return of acres of land they claim were given to them by Haile Selassie, their spiritual leader and Ethiopia's last emperor, was aired by Rastafarian leaders.
The calls struck a jarring note ahead of a huge Bob Marley concert due to take place in the capital Addis Ababa today, part of a month's worth of "Africa Unite" exhibitions, performances and conferences organised in the Rasta legend's memory.
Ambrose King, deputy resident country representative of the Ethiopian World Federation, an Addis-based Rastafarian group, said: "With the backdrop of the ongoing ‘Africa Unite' Bob Marley Foundation Musical Extravaganza in Ethiopia, one would have thought that every thing is OK with the RasTafarI Community. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Thousands of Reggae fans are expected to cram into Addis Ababa's central Meskel Square today to watch a free nine-hour concert featuring five of Bob Marley's sons, his widow Rita Marley and a host of World music stars. Federation members are hoping to take advantage of the world's attention to raise their grievances.
The Ethiopian World Federation, which claims to speak for a range of Rastafarian organisations and splinter groups, said it had sent letters to Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government departments, asking for face to face meetings.
BJ Moody, the federation's chief resident, said: "As the words of Bob Marley's music ring out over Ethiopia to ‘Get Up, Stand Up, and don't give up the fight' the federation is determined to halt this encroachment upon its heritage and is prepared to do whatever is necessary for its protection."
The main controversy is focused on three hectares of land in the dusty town of Shashemene, around 150 miles south of Addis Ababa, where most of Ethiopia's Rastafarians live today. The three hectares were part of a 200-hectare parcel of land set aside by Haile Selassie for black settlers from the West in the 1950s.
The land was quickly taken up by Rastafarians and other people from the West Indies, North America and Europe caught up in the "Back to Africa" movement of the 1950s and 1960s. But large parts of the fertile acreage were taken back again during the repressive Marxist regime which ruled over Ethiopia over the next two decades.
The World Federation claimed the region's local Oromia authority had allowed outside developers to move on to its last few plots.
King said: "We have three main issues. First we want the right to commercially develop front pieces of our land on the main road through Sashamene. Secondly we want the return of the full 200 hectares of land that was given to us. And thirdly there is the issue of citizenship. It is a scandal that we have second or third generation children here in their twenties who are still seen as foreigners."
A spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the issue of the nationality of Ethiopia's resident Rastafarians would be raised in parliament in the next two months. "This has not been debated before because no one has brought this up before," he added. "It is complicated because there are so many groups of Rastafarians - there are the Twelve Tribes, the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti."
He said the disagreement over the land was a matter for the local Oromia planning authority. No one from the authority was available for comment.
While the controversy bubbles under the surface, excitement over the concert and its surrounding celebrations has continued to build in Addis Ababa.
Over the past week, flights into the city's gleaming new airport have been packed with Rastafarians from as far afield as New York, London and Japan.
Ranking Miss P, the British radio DJ and Rita Marley's sister arrived earlier last week. She said: "I'm here because it is a historical occasion. It is my first time in Ethiopia - I'm grinning and brimming with excitement. You hear so many Rastafarians talk about Ethiopia. But not many make it out here. It's a spiritual place. It's the place where we aspire to be. It's a place that we consider to be the centre of the earth."
Addis Ababa's small businesses have also been doing their best to make the new arrivals feel at home.
Rasta-friendly hotels are already packed. Leah's Guesthouse is a two-storey villa, with its red, yellow and green walls covered in portraits of Marley and his beloved Emperor. "We've got eight bedrooms and they are full," said Leah Issachar, a red-haired, 65-year-old Rastafarian woman originally from Mosside, Manchester, who re-settled in Ethiopia a year ago.
The city's host of CD stalls which normally blare Ethiopian pop music have changed their tunes to ‘Get Up, Stand Up' and ‘I Shot The Sheriff'. Taxis and nightclubs are plastered with Bob Marley posters.
And worries over the land has not stopped bus loads of Rastafarians heading north to Addis Ababa from their rural retreat of Shashemene.
Desmond Martin, known as Dessie and chairman of the Jamaican Rastafarian Development Committee, said he was also concerned about the land issue. "I support them in this fight." But he said the concert gave grounds for hope.
"You have to be optimistic. Bob Marley was a person who brought everyone together, white and black, rich and poor. I have been here for 29 years now and our relations with people living here are getting better. They will get better."
Posted by aheavens at February 6, 2005 3:35 AM