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Namibia rejects German
Unmarked graves of Herero and Nama people who perished in German concentration camps (1904-1908) in Swakopmund/© CIPDH, UNESCO

Namibia rejects German financial compensation offer for colonial era genocide

The offer of the German government to pay €10 million to Namibia as compensation for the mass murder of its people more than a century ago has been rejected.

Namibian President Hage Geingob on Tuesday (11 August) turned down the German financial offer to compensate for the killing of tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people by German colonial troops between 1904 and 1908.

“The current offer for reparations made by the German government remains an outstanding issue and is not acceptable to the Namibian government,” Geingob said in a statement after a briefing on the status of negotiations between the two countries, which began in 2015. He added that the government’s special envoy to the talks with Germany, Zed Ngavirue, would continue to negotiate for a “revised offer”.

The negotiations between the two countries centre on Germany giving an official apology and offering compensation for the killing of tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people by German occupiers in 1904-1908. Historians say some 65,000 of the 80,000 Herero and at least 10,000 of the 20,000 Nama died in what is widely accepted as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Germany is yet to apologise formally for the tragic event even though it has acknowledged “moral responsibility” for the atrocities. The Namibians demand an unreserved apology.

Moreover, Germany has repeatedly refused to call any financial compensation “reparations”, favouring the term “healing the wounds”.

Analysts say the German government is reluctant to use the word “reparations” in any agreement with the Namibian government for the fear of other victims of its colonial adventure in Africa, such as in today’s Tanzania, making their own demands using the deal with Namibia as a legal blueprint. Namibia rejects Germany’s use of the term “healing the wounds” in place of the word reparations.

Other sticking points in the talks include the exclusion of representatives of the Herero and Nama communities, who are the direct descendants of the victims, from the negotiations. Germany has insisted that it would only hold talks with the Namibian government, a position vehemently opposed by the Herero and Nama representatives.

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“The colonisers are dictating the condition of peace as they did in war,” the Namibian filmmaker Perivi John Katjavivi wrote. “We are not only descendants of genocide victims, we are direct victims because it forced us into generations of poverty.”

The leaders of the Herero and Nama people have always maintained that the German government must own up to the genocide, apologise and pay compensation to them.

Germany ruled Namibia as a colony from 1884 to 1915 which it named Southwest Africa. In response to the seizure of their land and confiscation of their cattle, the Herero and Nama rebelled against the colonial occupiers in 1904. In the process of putting down the resistance, German troops massacred and displaced tens of thousands of the Namibians following an extermination order by their general Lothar von Trotha, who issued the infamous order: “Any Herero found inside the German [colonial] border, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I will spare neither women nor children, I will order them to be driven away or fire on them.”

Herero and Nama who escaped fighting between their warriors and colonial forces were driven into the desert, where many died of dehydration.

Survivors of the killings were taken to concentration camps, where they were abused, subject to slavery and, in some cases, to medical experiments following which hundreds of skulls from people who died at that time were taken to Germany to perform racial scientific experiments.

Germany’s brutal clampdown on the resistance of people inhabiting the territories it occupied in Africa during the colonial era also occurred in Tanzania, where its forces crushed the Maji-Maji rebellion, leading to an estimated 300,000 people losing their lives. Analysts say any deal with Namibia may also elicit demands for compensation from Tanzania as well as claims from countries like Cameroon or Togo which were also colonised by Germany.

Sola Jolaoso

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