The Guardian: LONDON, England, By Kenneth Mohammed – He is a 20th-century global icon but not officially designated a national hero in his own land. In a recent interview at the Bob Marley: One Love movie premiere, Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, disclosed that his government was considering again the longstanding petitions to award its highest honour to the legend. Marley’s’s profound impact on music and Jamaican culture is undeniable. From Kingston to Harare, he stood for social justice and freedom and against colonialism. To have decades of deliberation by politicians on whether to declare him a national hero is baffling.

From baby boomers to generation X, growing up in the Caribbean was enriched by a vibrant and resonant tapestry of diverse music. The formative backdrop was artists such as Sam Cooke, Sparrow, Jim Reeves, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire and Bob Marley. All could be heard back to back on the airwaves. Reggae was growing internationally, with Marley paving the way for the multitude of Caribbean artists to come.

Despite development challenges such as poverty, inequality, the climate crisis, environmental degradation, peace and justice issues, the Caribbean islands are home to vibrant cultures, rich biodiversity, and untapped potential. Music and sport play a critical part as they provide opportunities for the poorest but most talented young men and women to improve their stations in life. Marley, an ardent sports fan, was a part of that.

The importance of music and sport is generally overlooked in global development initiatives. But Marley, just like cricket, placed the West Indies on the world map at a time when the black power movement had ignited a surge of fierce patriotism and love of country.

The British may have invented cricket, but the West Indies team perfected it, and Caribbean people relished the opportunity to beat the colonisers at their own game.

Bob Marley, centre, performs with his band during the Viva Zimbabwe independence celebration at Rufaro Stadium, Salisbury (later renamed Harare), Zimbabwe, in April 1980. Photograph: William Campbell/Getty Images

So too, Marley’s lyrics of revolution and redemption resonated with the diaspora in Canada, the US and Britain. It became autobiographical. Songs such as Concrete Jungle, Natural Mystic, Keep on Moving and Crisis helped many homesick West Indians through the coldest and gloomiest winters. His motivational music reflected their lives. A strain emanating from a passing car of Jamming, or Three Little Birds, was enough to lift your mood. Many of his songs were built on Bible scriptures which shaped his ideology on issues such as gratitude, humility, materialism, love and forgiveness. The song One Love epitomised this. West Indian culture, music, food and lifestyle became addictive. Jamaican DJs “toasting” over dub tracks created many different musical genres.

No other West Indian, for that matter, has had such a global impact culturally, economically, politically or musically. Marley’s influence extends far beyond Jamaica. His music reached every corner of the planet. He remains the most famous personality to ever come out of the Caribbean, far more than any politician or athlete.

His birthday, February 6, is celebrated in Jamaica. The UN awarded him the medal of peace, he was honoured with a Grammy lifetime achievement award and Time magazine chose Exodus as album of the century. Marley also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Marley was by no means a perfect man … but this is a matter for his God to judge, not politicians

In April 1981 Marley was awarded Jamaica’s then third-highest honour, the Order of Merit, for his contribution to island culture. After he died of cancer a month later, the man who had lived life as the people’s rebel, received a state funeral as the Honourable Robert Nesta Marley OM.

On the very short list of Jamaican national heroes there are names that only the diaspora or a historian may recognise or remember. This is not to detract from these phenomenal figures who sacrificed a great deal; some even gave their lives for freedom, justice and peace. They also shaped the Jamaica we know today. Arguably, except for Marcus Garvey their impact was national but not global. So who were they?

George William Gordon, born to a Scottish planter and a slave woman, devoted his life to advocating for impoverished peasants. His pursuit of social and economic reform resulted in his execution during the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion. Gordon’s unwavering commitment led to his recognition as a national hero.

Paul Bogle, a freed slave, championed the rights of oppressed people during Jamaica’s economic hardship. His leadership during the Morant Bay rebellion ignited a movement for change. Bogle’s ultimate sacrifice cemented his national hero status.

Samuel Sharpe, born into slavery, played a pivotal role in the 1831 rebellion, contributing to the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. His courage inspired others to resist oppression, earning him national hero recognition

Nanny, an Asante leader of the Maroons born in 1686, symbolised strength and unity in the fight for freedom. Her leadership defended her community against colonial oppression, making her a national hero.

Marcus Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), inspired millions with his message of black pride and empowerment. He advocated for economic self-sufficiency and cultural unity among people of African descent, and became Jamaica’s first national hero in 1964, 24 yeas after his death.

Sir Alexander Bustamante, of Irish descent, founder of the Jamaica Labour party (JLP), played a crucial role in Jamaica’s journey to self-governance as its first prime minister in 1962, earning him national hero status.

Politician Norman Manley, a scholar and leader who co-founded the People’s National party (PNP) in 1938 and guided Jamaica towards independence, is now a national hero for his contributions to nation-building and social justice.

In considering this list of heroes it is important to contextualise Marley’s impact and to understand his detractors. He was not without controversy: in 1978 Britain banned him from performing after his first concert, while many radio stations banned the song Crazy Baldhead from their airwaves and the BBC banned I Shot the Sheriff in 1991.

Marley was by no means a perfect man. His detractors cite his adultery, as he fathered children outside his marriage. What hypocrisy. Did none of the others on the esteemed list commit any moral contravention such as the killing of people during the rebellions? This is a matter for his God to judge, not politicians.

The One Love peace concert, April 1978 in Kingston, with Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley, far left, and his political opponent Edward Seaga, third from left, joining Bob Marley and the Wailers on stage. Photograph: Echoes/Redferns

Detractors say he promoted the smoking of marijuana. The colonised-captured-small-picture mindset is still vibrant in the Caribbean today. All over the world, marijuana is now a legalised industry, filling the pockets of the elites. In Redemption Song, Marley repeated the words Marcus Garvey uttered in 1937, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind”. Both men knew what the future held for their people. The lyrics to Marley’s song War remain relevant today to those fighting against racism and apartheid. Many people, especially his Rastafarian brethren, saw Marley as a prophet. From scripture, Mark 6:4 neatly captures the debate today, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own land”.

Marley almost gave his life for political peace, surviving an assassination attempt and bringing two warring politicians together in his famous One Love peace concert in 1978. He globalised the Rastafarian religion and evangelised in the vein of Garvey for decolonisation and black consciousness. He single-handedly elevated reggae to a recognised musical genre, promoting the musical ecosystem we see now in Jamaica and inspired thousands of young poor black men and women to follow in his footsteps, not just in Jamaica but throughout the West Indies and the world. Marley was the greatest singer-songwriter-activist this world has ever seen.

His legacy continues to inspire generations – especially the most downtrodden and underprivileged. His music, wisdom and “positive vibrations” remain a powerful force for change and unity. He is and will for ever be an international hero.

Top Feature Photo: Jamaican musician Bob Marley: ‘No other West Indian has had such a global impact, culturally, economically, or musically.’ TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy