A Tanzanian holding a German flag at a reception for the visiting German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in November 2023. He also sought forgiveness for crimes committed during the German colonial rule of Tanzania/Photo: Courtesy of Imani Nsamila Photography

Germany apologises for colonial-era crimes in Tanzania

Germany has again apologised for the atrocities it committed during its colonial rule of Tanzania.

Apologies were made on Saturday by the German Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Katja Keul, at an event commemorating the 124th anniversary of the brutal killings of the traditional leaders of the Old Moshi area, Moshi district, Kilimanjaro Region.

Ms Keul was in Tanzania to take part in the commemoration of the brutal murder of the 19 Chiefs of the Chagga and Meru peoples by German colonial troops in March 1900. The killing of the chiefs and many others were in the course of German colonial subjugation of the territories that make up today’s Tanzania, part of German East Africa.

“For it was here, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, 124 years ago today, on March 2nd 1900, that 19 Chiefs of the Chagga and Meru peoples were brutally murdered by German colonial troops. We still don’t know the 19 victims by name. But we know that many more died before and after the execution. It is important to me that my country faces the truth about our past in Tanzania,” the minister said at the ceremony.

“German colonial rule in Tanzania was inhumane and cruel.”

Ms Keul narrated the history of the war between the German colonial forces and the Meru and Arusha people, the Chiefs of those tribes (Meru and Arusha) were arrested and sent to Moshi; then it followed the arrest of the Chagga Chiefs, later on, they were all brutally killed on March 2, 1900, in front of their family members.

“And as if that wasn’t terrible enough, their heads were separated from their bodies and most probably shipped to Germany. With this barbaric act, the German colonists not only killed their adversaries. They robbed families of the chance to bid farewell to their loved ones in a proper way. Families and communities have been separated from their ancestors ever since. The pain they feel is passed on to every new generation,” she said.

“As a German, I am ashamed of what our ancestors did. And I am deeply sorry,” Keul added.

“I bow to Mangi Meli, and the other 18 Chiefs we are commemorating today. I bow to all the other victims of German colonial rule in Tanzania. As a representative of the German Government, I ask that I may tender a sincere apology for the suffering that the colonists brought upon you.”

The minister revealed at the ceremony that she’s a descendant of Carl Peters – the so-called founder of German East Africa – who led a brutal campaign of subjugation against the people of Tanzania.

“And as a descendant of the Peters family, I personally ask your forgiveness in the name of my family. We cannot undo the wrong.”

Keul said she was in Tanzania to listen to what its people would like the Germans to do to address the tragic history and “heal the wounds”. She said Germany was open to suggestions on how to give “your ancestors a proper burial in keeping with your traditions.”

This is against the background that the remains of the victims are still found in German museums, in universities, in research institutions or even in private collections today. “This is unacceptable,” she added. “It is not where they belong.”

Keul said there were immense difficulties in identifying the remains due to loss of records, but that Berlin was determined to do its best to reunite the remains with their descendants.

“It is also important for me when I return home to raise awareness among my fellow citizens about what happened here more than a century ago, and this is due to the real fact that for a long time, the Germans have ignored or forgotten about the atrocities committed here by the colonists from our country,” she noted.

Speaking on behalf of Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner (RC), Mr Nurdin Babu, Moshi District Commissioner Kisare Makori said that the commemorations provided an opportunity for the leaders of the current generation to see the importance of being patriotic while serving their citizens.

“Let these commemorations give us a spirit of working patriotically for the interests of the nation and its people,” he said.

He thanked the German government for agreeing to cooperate with the Tanzanian government in ensuring that the remains of the chiefs and other ancient assets of Tanzanians are returned to the country.

DC Makori said that President Samia Suluhu Hassan had already formed a special national committee that would work with other stakeholders to ensure that the remains and other traditional belongings that were transferred to Germany were returned to the country.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had also asked for forgiveness for crimes committed during the country’s colonial rule of Tanzania last November when he visited the African country. “I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here,” Steinmeier had said during a visit to the Maji Maji Museum in the southern Tanzanian city of Songea.

Adira Kallo

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