Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith suggests that now is the ‘right time’ to name Bob Marley a National Hero.
“Emotionally, he’s a National Hero to all of us already, you know? Bob is in our hearts. I know that we’re also very big on governance as a country and we try to ensure rules are followed, but I think it’s absolutely something that should be considered seriously,” she told DancehallMag at the premiere of Bob Marley: One Love on Tuesday. “There’s no idea like an idea of whose time has come, and maybe that time is now.”
The discussion around honoring Marley with this title has been active for years. Opposition spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Lisa Hanna had called for Marley to be given the highest order amidst talks of Jamaica transitioning to a Republic. At the time, the conversation was reignited after Bajan superstar Rihanna was named a National Hero in her country.
Johnson Smith emphasized Marley’s unique role in representing Jamaica worldwide, noting his influence on various foreign ministers she has met.
“It means everything. Bob is Jamaica, and Jamaica is Bob. [He’s] one of the first persons, if not the first person who’s recognised when you say ‘Jamaica’ overseas. For someone who doesn’t speak English, they say, ‘Bob Marley,” Johnson Smith said.
“As Foreign Minister, when I travel, I can’t tell you the number of Foreign Ministers that I’ve met who speak about how they listened to Bob Marley in their youth. He was a voice of liberation, he was a voice of freedom, he was a voice of self-empowerment and nationalization. He’s everything beyond Jamaican power and Jamaican strength beyond our own size.”
In February 2020, music industry veteran Tommy Cowan, who was once marketing manager for Marley, had argued that no other person, including the seven National Heroes, had the impact of the Exodus singer but that there were people in Jamaica who could not “get beyond the fact that they see this man with a spliff that he can’t be a National Hero.”
However, Professor of Culture, Gender, and Society at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Donna P. Hope, had told the Jamacia Gleaner in an August 2017 article that, for a small nation, Jamaica already had “way too many national heroes.”
“I think we really have to be very careful as to how we go about apportioning that notion of heroine or hero status to individuals,” Hope had said. The Professor, who is the publisher of several books on Jamaican music including Inna Di Dancehall and Reggae Stories, had also pointed out that some persons “want to incorrectly impose hero status on individuals based on achievements in their careers and the recognition they have gained internationally”.
In December 2021, Opposition Senator Floyd Morris served notice in the Upper House of the Jamaican Parliament that he would be moving a motion for Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Usain Bolt and Louise Bennett Coverly to be all made National Heroes, no later than Independence Day August 6, 2022. That, however, did not materialize.