Though Bob Marley died in May 1981, his music lives on and music fans world over today took to social media to pay glowing tribute to the Jamaican reggae legend who changed the world with ‘One Love’.
In Kenya, the script was the same and dozens of Kenyans took time to celebrate Marley’s birthday in style. Mathare Roots Youth Group for instance organized a cleanup exercise in their community in his honor and brought to life Marley’s words “live for yourself and you will live in vain. Live for others, and you will live again.”
“Marley has been an inspiration to most of us from the slums and we wanted to celebrate this day by making our community a clean place to live in. Bob Marley advocated for social change and that is what we do every single day. We try and be impactful to our community,” said Lucas Odhiambo, Group coordinator at Mathare Roots Youth Group.
Bob Marley, like many other Rastafarians, shared a desire to visit the African continent and of course, later on–when he could afford to or was invited–he travel to Africa where his legacy lives on todate.
Bob Marley loved Jamaica but he was in transit and Africa was the destination. He not only loved the continent symbolically but also in a real sense.
A fervent and unapologetic Pan-Africanist, Bob Marley strongly believed in the unity of African people and his beliefs on Pan-Africanism were rooted in his Rastafari religious beliefs.
“Black people are suffering all over the earth and when you check it you know that black people must unite”. Bob Marley was quoted saying in BBC article, Marley’s legend.
In 1978, he visited Kenya and Ethiopia but it was in Gabon where his love for Africa manifested itself physically.
In January 1980, at the age of 34, Bob visited Gabon and later the same year he flew to Zimbabwe where he not only played at independence celebrations of Zimbabwe from British colonial and white minority rule but also specially composed a song for Zimbabwe’s freedom.
By accounts Bob Marley was ahead of his time and loudly condemned African government political excesses, he even foresaw the fall of Robert Mugabe who in 2018 after close to four decades in power bowed out and resigned after being toppled by the army.
In “Zimbabwe” Marley sang: “Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary.” Also, earlier during the concert, as overzealous riot police teargassed crowds trying to get into a full stadium, Marley refused to leave, braving the teargas with his fans.
Another reason African countries also dreaded the thought of Bob Marley stepping on their soil was his open advocation of smoking Marijuana ‘Ganja’, which at the time was a big big taboo.
“Herb is the healing of the nation, alcohol is the destruction.” Bob Marley once said.
Three decades later however, ‘Ganja’ is not only legal in some African countries including Africa’s biggest economy South Africa and even Zimbabwe but is proving to be not only a cheaper but healthier form of Medication.
The latest study released by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found out that cannabis smoking is associated with higher sperm count among other health benefits.
It is in Gabon however, where his real love for ‘Mama Africa was visible to all and sundry.
Marley, it seems, had fallen for Pascaline Mferri Bongo Ondimba, the daughter of dictator Omar Bongo who had been in power since 1967.
Their ‘love story’ however wasn’t love at first sight literally and the first time Bob Marley laid his eyes on Pascaline he called her ‘ugly’ at her face.
The year was 1979, and President Omar Bongo Odimba was on an official visit to the United States accompanied with her daughter Pascaline, then aged 23.
While in the US, Pascaline begged her father to go to a concert of his idol Bob Marley and at the end of the concert, she slipped into the Rasta Man's lodge to meet the ‘man of her dreams’ only to be turned down in the ‘ugliest’ fashion.
“The first time I met him was in America in 1979 and when we went backstage when he saw me, he said Gosh you’re ugly,” Pascaline said in a documentary film about the Jamaican singer Bob Marley titled ‘Marley’ which was released in France June 13, 2012.
The film by Ken MacDonald, director of the famous film "The Last King of Scotland" about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada, brings alive the Reggae star through the testimony of a dozen characters, among them former girlfriends.
In the film, Pascaline paints Marley as some kind of black consciousness figure.It captures the singers final days and his struggle with cancer (the subject of innumerable conspiracy theories) his troubled friendship with football star Alan “Skilly” Cole and his relationship with Pascaline Bongo the ‘Princess of Gabon’
“They’d had a relationship that went beyond just a girlfriend relationship, I think she’d been also instrumental in a couple things in his life,” said Ken MacDonald.
‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and just like any other woman Pascaline was livid more so keeping in mind that the words were coming from the man she not only loved and also craved for in her bed.
“I was shocked I told myself I don’t know this man, he does not know me and he says I am ugly!”
Later on, however, ‘Princess of Gabon’ would come and forgive the music legend, seriously who can hold a grudge against Bob Marley? But after releasing Bob Indeed saw her as a beautiful African woman but she had spoiled her sashing looks by trying to imitate the west and donning western hair, a flaw African woman to date still sadly carry.
“Later I understood that it was because I had straightened my hair and because he was a Rasta, everything should stay natural,” Pascaline said.
Something Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, as much as he may not be a Rasta at least going by the looks may be very much be a Rasta by heart and proved Bob Marley right 39 years later.
Last year when 22-year-old Quiin Abenakyo, who had just been crowned Miss World Africa becoming the first Ugandan beauty contestant to make it to the top 5 finalists in the Miss World competition, paid a courtesy visit to President Museveni at State House, Entebbe moments after her return in the country, the head of state did not mince his words and call her ‘ugly’ for donning western hair.
"Abenakyo is indeed a tall, beautiful Musoga girl. My only concern is that she was wearing Indian hair. I have encouraged her to keep her natural, African hair. We must show African beauty in its natural form." said Museveni.
After their brief ‘fall over’ and remake Pascaline Bongo invited Bob Marley to play in Africa for the very first time.
“And then we asked if he could come to Gabon for my father’s birthday,” “This is what we did and he came in January 1980,”
And so in January 1980, Bob Marley and his band went to Gabon, the country was a dictatorship under President Omar Bongo who had been in power since 1967. According to the film Marley only figured this out once he got there, but still decided to play anyway since he had traveled so far.
“And it was my brother who welcomed him at the palace”
But even so it wasn’t so straight forward and some figures who clearly weren’t music fans wanted to stop him from performing but alas ‘Nobody can stop Reggae.
“Someone went to my father and told him ‘Oh la la’ you should not host Bob Marley he is a revolutionary, it is not right,” Pascaline said.
According to Pascaline, the first show went very well but the Gabonese people did not applaud sending them into a panic frenzy.
“We said “Aie Aie Aie” there is a problem, maybe they don’t like him”
After the performance Pascaline would have the fright of her life but Bob Marley’s Music would save her. It seems no one is immune to ‘One Love’.
“The crowd surrounded the car and I thought, that’s it, they are going to kill us and destroy the car but to my surprise the young people surrounding the car started shouting, Rastaman! Rastaman! Rastaman!” said Pascaline.
Everywhere Bob Marley went in Gabon kids would run alongside the bus waving and shouting Bob Marley! Bob Marley! Ganja! Ganja! The whole country it seems was dangerously hooked on his music, personality, philosophy and everything Bob Marley.
“He often went to the beach with the young people they told him they did not understand about Rasta and asked him what it meant, what is his philosophy, what were his thoughts about what Africa should be doing? The revolution? All the questions young people have,” said Pascaline.
“I think he had a huge impact on the young people of Libriville. Huge,”
Gabon had gone gaga over Marley and Pascaline was no match.
“He was very straightforward, very frank, simple, humble. When you fall in love with someone you don’t think of the reasons. It just happens.” She said.
They briefly dated from 1980 – 1981 though not exclusively as Bob often carried on a number of concurrent relationships.
Pascaline would visit Bob Marley one last time in Germany before he died on 11 May 1981.
The ‘Princess of Gabon’ is currently married to one Paul Toungui whom they tied the knot in 1995.
She herself is a Gabonese politician and served under her father, President Omar Bongo, as minister of foreign affairs and director of her father’s cabinet during from the early 1990s until his death in 2009. Ms. Bongo’s half-brother Ali Bongo is now president of the country.