Germany officially recognises colonial-era Namibia genocide

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https://www.bbc.com-image copyright EPA

image caption The deal follows years of efforts toward reconciliation, including repatriation of remains

Germany has officially acknowledged committing genocide during its colonial occupation of Namibia, and announced financial aid worth more than €1.1bn (£940m; $1.34bn).

German colonisers killed tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people there in early 20th Century massacres.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country was asking Namibia and victims’ descendants for forgiveness.

But activists say the aid is not enough to address the suffering inflicted.

The money will apparently be paid out over 30 years through spending on infrastructure, healthcare and training programmes benefiting the impacted communities.

“We will now officially refer to these events as what they are from today’s perspective: genocide,” Mr Maas said, adding that colonial-era actions should be discussed “without sparing or glossing over”.

A spokesman for the Namibian government told AFP news agency Germany’s recognition was “a first step in the right direction”.

What happened during the genocide?

Friday’s statement came after five years of negotiations with Namibia – which was under German occupation from 1884 to 1915.

The atrocities committed have been described by historians as “the forgotten genocide” of the early 20th Century, in what was then known as German South West Africa.

The UN defines genocide as a number of acts, including killing, committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

The genocide began in 1904 after a Herero and Nama rebellion over German seizures of their land and cattle. The head of the military administration there, Lothar von Trotha, called for the extermination of the population in response.

Survivors from the Herero and Nama population were forced into the desert and later placed in concentration camps where they were exploited for labour.

Many died of disease, exhaustion and starvation with some subject to sexual exploitation and medical experimentation. It is thought up to 80% of the indigenous populations died during the genocide – with a death toll in the tens of thousands.

Germany has previously acknowledged the atrocities but ruled out paying reparations. In 2018 they repatriated some human remains to Namibia which had been used as part of now-discredited research attempting to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans.

The latest deal was reportedly agreed during a round of negotiations held by special envoys in mid-May.

A declaration is expected to be signed by the German foreign minister in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, next month before being ratified by each country’s parliament, German media reports say.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is then expected to travel to the country to officially apologise.

What are campaigners saying?

Laidlaw Peringanda, a Herero activist and chairman of the Namibian Genocide Association, said the offer of development aid was not enough.

“We’re actually not accepting that offer because our people have lost lands, they have lost their culture and a lot of them have fled to Botswana, South Africa and some of them were taken to Togo and Cameroon,” he told BBC World Service.

He insisted that Germany should buy back ancestral lands now in the hands of the German-speaking community, which reportedly makes up less than 1% of the population.

“People are getting impatient, especially the minority black people who [don’t] have a piece of land,” he said. “And from what I’m hearing from some of the people, there will be a land revolution. People will grab the land by force. So we must actually try to avoid these things.”

Mr Maas said the negotiations had aimed to find “a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims” with members of the Herero and Nama communities closely involved in talks.

Another point of contention is around language. The agreed deal focuses on the idea of reconciliation over formalised compensation, with Mr Maas describing the aid package as a “gesture” rather than reparation.

Jürgen Zimmerer, professor of global history of University of Hamburg, told the BBC World Service a great number of descendants of the victims of the genocide felt excluded.

“This is quite a problem if reconciliation is the aim,” he said. “How do you reconcile with the victims if the victims feel left out of the entire process?”

Tim Whewell, writing for the BBC earlier this year about the negotiations, said the discussions were the first of their kind by a former colonial power.

He wrote that many Herero and Nama living in overcrowded areas or informal settlements had hoped the deal would go some way to restoring land access and some of the prosperity their ancestors enjoyed before the genocide.

 

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