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Norris McDonald | Edward Seaga and political conflicts in Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | June 11, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Bob Marley was shot on December 3, 1976, because it was feared, in my opinion, that he was more and more openly supporting Michael Manley and the progressive attempts to rebuild the Jamaican society.

Bob was shot roughly two weeks before the December 15, 1976 general election. Despite a wave a political violence, Michael Manley was re-elected prime minister.

I do not believe we can talk about the late Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s political contribution to Jamaica without seeing it within the context of the ideological and political clash between two headstrong men, himself and Michael Manley.

Michael Manley became leader of the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1969, one year after the Walter Rodney, Black Power riots. Back then, political oppression of black people was a part of everyday life in the 1960s to 1970s. I can recall, at age 14, in 1968, hiding under the coir bed to read books about Marcus Garvey, and other progressive black books that were all banned and, if found, were confiscated and burned by the police and soldiers.

In the 1960s, police beatings, the raid and destruction of Rasta communities, public trimming of Rastafari dreadlocks, arbitrary arrests and beatings, detention and imprisonment were part of the everyday life.

The rebellious, defiant cry of Rastafari was…

“Babylon you must fall down,

Fall down, fall down

Babylon you must fall down!”

The Walter Rodney, Black Power riots of October 1968 reflected the outpouring of the inner pain of the black working class. The cry for justice culturally was coming out in the music, in the Rastafarian Nyabinghi chants and, in the Garveyite, Black Power politics.

The discriminatory treatment against the Rastafarians sharply increased in and around 1958 under the British colonial government. It continued under the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government and did not ease somewhat until the JLP was kicked out of power in 1972.


Manley came to power in 1972. Under his leadership, Jamaica pursued an anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist foreign policy. This saw Jamaica clashing with American interests globally.

Seaga, meanwhile, became the JLP’s political leader in 1974 and immediately stamped his authoritarian style of leadership on the JLP. This led to the alienation of the traditional, middle-and upper- class Bustamante party members.

The Manley-Seaga political clash intensified as Manley pursued an anti-imperialist political agenda, developed close relations with Fidel Castro of Cuba, Willy Brandt of Germany, and other members of the Socialist International.

Manley’s support for Cuban troops helping to stop the 1975 South African invasion of Angola increased American hostility to Jamaica.

The PNP, under Manley, championed the international struggle against apartheid and neocolonialist dominance of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and other parts of the African diaspora.

Manley championed free education also, up to university level, which benefited many poor people, the black middle class and, also, many of the present leaders of the JLP.

He also championed land reform, healthcare, and the JAMAL programme to get rid of adult illiteracy. Edward Seaga, meanwhile, was now spouting a “blood for blood, fire for fire,” militant rhetoric.

Both Manley and Seaga had charismatic qualities. Both were fierce in their political rhetoric; but, whereas Manley was more nuanced, Mr Seaga militantly mobilised his supporters to “Turn them back!”


I believe that Bob Marley got caught in this fiery mix, simply as a progressive reggae artiste and Rastafarian.

In an article, ‘Dread, beat and blood’, Vivien Goldman of The Guardian newspaper, published a historical reflection in which Bob said why he supported Michael Manley.

“Manley say him wan help poor people,” Bob Marley reportedly told The Guardian newspaper, and “they feel something good is gonna happen… We need a change from what it was. It couldn’t get worse than that.” Bob added, “You have to share. I don’t care if it sounds political or whatever it is, but people have to share.” (Vivien Goldman, July 16, 2006).

Reggae, Rastafari and politics had become a potent political force that scared the daylight out of those who wanted to “Turn back Jamaica”. This is why Bob Marley became such a danger to those who opposed Manley.


This ‘one leader’ style of leadership saw many top leaders, such as Bob Lightbourne, Mavis Gilmore, Lynden Newland, Wilton Hill, among others, leave the JLP.

From then it was no longer a Bustamante party. It became a more conservative, radicalised Seaga JLP.

This ‘One Don’ mentality is not what democracy is supposed to be about. In any event, authoritarianism is contrary to Jamaica’s democratic norms and values.

Meanwhile, the more radicalised, conservative JLP, led by Edward Seaga, accused Manley of turning Jamaica into a communist state. This was the type of music the Americans wanted to hear to justify the political intervention and destabilisation activity in Jamaica.

Casey Gane-McCalla, in the book Inside The CIA’s War In Jamaica (2016), discusses many of the issues, including the attempted murder of Bob Marley who, the masters of his assassins feared, had the ability to stop their diabolical, destabilisation plans.

Covert Action Bulletin, which was published by former CIA agents such as Phillip Agee, also revealed in their Number 10 bulletin (August to Sep. 1980) that…

“Seaga’s frequent trips to the United States and an unusually affluent JLP are not the only signs of outside help. The JLP somehow obtained and repainted green, the JLP’s colour, about 90 surplus US Post Office jeeps through its Miami affiliate, the Jamaica Freedom League. These were the same Jeeps implicated in several incidents of violence.” (

This is newly discovered document from former CIA agents which clearly – as readers can see – directly ties the Seaga-led JLP to foreign external links and to the wave of political violence that Jamaica experienced from the period 1975-1980.

The One Love Concert of 1978 was the first major attempt to curb the wave of violence. It never did. The intense political violence continued to the 1980 general election when Mr Seaga finally became prime minister of Jamaica.


Niccolo Machiavelli, in his book The Prince , says it is almost impossible for a leader to be loved and feared at the same time, therefore it is better to be feared than loved, since people are very ungrateful and will turn against you.

This happened with Michael Manley in 1980, and eventually happened in 1989 when the people turned their backs on Mr Seaga and, once again, re-elected Michael Manley.

Mr Seaga, nevertheless, earned the distinction of being both feared and loved. In this sense, he has outperformed even the master, Machiavelli himself!

In 1981, Prime Minster Edward Seaga became the first foreign leader to meet US President Ronald Reagan and thereafter, a Caribbean Basin Initiative was announced to promote economic development. This, in my opinion, was his exemplary reward for ‘saving Jamaica from communism’.

There is no doubt that Puppa Eddie Seaga was a master political tactician and strategist. For him, though, it would appear that whatsoever was necessary to achieve a desired political outcome, he was willing to pursue.

And it is this fact, in my opinion, that takes away all the other noble achievements.

That is just the bitta truth.

Norris McDonald is an economic journalist, social researcher and political analyst. Email feedback to and