Newsbrief: Bob Marley Birthday Bash in Addis Ababa Comes Off Without a Hitch 2/11/05

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Hundreds of thousands of people streamed into the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of reggae superstar and iconic pot-smoker Bob Marley. The dreadlocked singer who popularized both reggae and Rastafarianism, the religion based on the belief that former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) is God and marijuana is a holy sacrament, would have turned 60 on February 6, but he died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36.

Despite warnings last week from the US State Department that Ethiopia has strict drug laws and would be practicing heavy security, Sunday's concert featuring Rita Marley, Ziggy Marley, and African performers Youssou D'Nour and Baaba Maal, among others, went off without a hitch, although some Ethiopians pronounced themselves bemused both by Rastafarianism and its use of Jah herb as a sacrament.

While the city's Meskel Square was packed with humanity and the Rasta colors -- green, yellow, and red -- were prominent, as were posters of Marley and Selassie, the sweet scent of the weed provoked no police response. "No problem has been witnessed and reported so far in the city. We are doing our best for the security of this big gathering," a police officer at the square told All Africa News. Addis Ababa residents were more inclined to take a mellow attitude toward the visitors and their strange customs than the State Department was. "I don't have much affection for them, but I am not against them," said Zenbe Biru, a 22-year-old student at Addis Ababa University. "I have a problem understanding their philosophy," he told the Khaleej Times.

"I have my own reservations about the Rastafarians," added 18-year-old high school pupil Alem Desta. "I hate the way they dress and mostly I hate what they smoke. I have never dreamed of considering them as one of us. They have their own home, we have our own," he said. "But I like their music."

The Ethiopian government was also disinclined to chastise the Rastas, thousands of whom have resettled in Ethiopia, which they consider the promised land. "The government is not interested in contesting religious claims," said Information Minister Simon Bedekat, responding to complaints from Christian conservatives that the celebrations were blasphemous. "This is a secular government that acknowledges the right to believe in what you believe," he said. "Basically the Rastafarians have the right to believe in what they believe and the evangelicals also have that right."

Still, Bedekat expressed dismay at the Rastas' marijuana use. "We're worried about it," he said. "We believe that an emerging society must guard itself from any scourge, be it drugs or other types of negative influences." But not too much, especially on Bob Marley's birthday.

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Issue #374 -- 2/11/05

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Editorial: A Cautious First Step | First North American Heroin Maintenance Study Now Underway in Vancouver | DRCNet Interview: Marijuana Policy Project Director Rob Kampia | DRCNet Book Review: "It's Just a Plant," by Ricardo Cortes (2005, Magic Propaganda Mill, $17.95 HB) | Drug War Chronicle's Phil Smith Featured in New Book -- "Under The Influence" Available as DRCNet Premium | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Newsbrief: Memphis Taxpayers to Pay Big Time for Police Drug Raid Killing | Newsbrief: Bush Budget Slashes Funds for Local Police, Increases DEA Funding | Newsbrief: What Meth Epidemic? National Survey Shows Amphetamine Use Unchanged from Year Earlier | Newsbrief: Death Squad Killings Spike Upward in Davao | Newsbrief: Indian Government Blinks in Face of Threatened Drug Shortage | Newsbrief: Marijuana Reform Under Attack in Western Australia | Newsbrief: Bob Marley Birthday Bash in Addis Ababa Comes Off Without a Hitch | Newsbrief: London Police Chief Ramps Up Rhetorical War on Middle-Class Cocaine Use | Web Scan: Debra Saunders, Drug War Carol, DPA Web Chat, Drug Truth Radio | This Week in History | Errata: Meth Bill Sponsor | The Reformer's Calendar

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