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Decades After His Death, Bob Marley's Vision Unites

Yeshi Eklund, a former resident of Fairfax County, said she loves America but she feels most at home in Ethiopia. She's married to an American and they have four children. Now, she says, they are planning to retire here.

"We all lost hope in the pan-African movement," she says. "It's true. But our culture is so beautiful. We should never lose that. We have so much work to do in Africa. So many of our scientists and doctors need to come back."


Pope Abune Paulos, head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and Rita Marley visit on Tuesday in Addis Ababa, which is hosting a 60th birthday celebration this week for Marley's late husband, Bob. (Boris Heger -- AP)

Tears start to wet her eyes.

"We know there are problems," she says. Ethiopia's HIV/AIDS rate is one of the highest on the continent; many in drought-stricken areas still depend on food handouts, and most of the countryside lacks roads, health care or schools. "But Bob Marley won't have wanted us to quit," Eklund says. " We need more people like him. He was such a good role model, he sang to us, 'Everything's going to be all right.' "

Much of the celebrations are directed at Africa's youth, who are coming from all over the continent to talk about the future and honor Marley.

The youth from South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and Ghana say they want to stay in Africa. They want to believe in the "pan-African movement." But many of them find it comical and surprising that so many African Americans want to come back to Africa while so many Africans want visas to the United States.

There is a story that is often told in Africa: The U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone screens a documentary about the history of slaves stolen from Sierra Leone and sold in the Carolinas. The film is a harrowing indictment of the American dream, filled with tales of racism and horrific economic conditions for black Americans. At the end of the film, an embassy employee stands up and asks if the audience has any questions. "How can we get a visa to America?" a jobless Sierra Leonean asks.

Some youngsters discuss this story and laugh. Later, during a workshop sponsored by the United Nations, they break into discussion groups. In one group, they say they want African leaders to reduce corruption, hold democratic elections and work to end Africa's conflicts and create jobs.

"No man can be free if they are broke," says Dudley Thompson.

"Child soldiers, those are a terrible problem," says a soft-spoken student from Uganda.

An African American passing by the group says she finds the discussion "so depressing." But the kids shrug and carry on.

Marley's dream is not realized, they say, but his words still inspire.

At the end of the discussion, they decide they can't solve everything. But they all agree that they should stay in Africa and fight to have a voice. That was Marley's message, they decide.

"I will write a song about this week," says Nazizi Hirji, 23, a dreadlocked Kenyan wearing a Marley T-shirt. "We don't have many role models right now. But we still have Marley's music, and music is the best power."


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