Germany acknowledges the colonial ‘genocide’ in Namibia and committed € 1 billion in reparations
Germany first acknowledged on Friday that it had committed genocide in Namibia during its colonial occupation, with Berlin pledging financial aid worth more than a billion euros to help projects in the African nation.
German colonial settlers murdered tens of thousands of native Herero and Nama people in the 1904-1908 massacres – hailed by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century – that poisoned relations between Namibia and Germany for years.
Although Berlin had previously acknowledged that the colonial authorities had committed atrocities, they have repeatedly refused to pay direct compensation.
“We will now officially refer to these events as what they are from today’s perspective: genocide,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement.
He praised the agreement after more than five years of negotiating with Namibia on events in Berlin territory from 1884 to 1915.
“In light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will ask forgiveness from Namibia and the victims’ descendants” for the “atrocities committed,” Maas said.
In a “gesture to acknowledge the tremendous suffering caused to the victims,” the country will support Namibia’s “reconstruction and development” through a € 1.1 billion ($ 1.34 billion) financial program, he said.
The amount will be paid in 30 years, according to sources close to the negotiations, and should primarily benefit the descendants of the Hereo and Nama.
However, he indicated that the payment does not open the way to a “legal claim for compensation”.
Namibia was called German South West Africa during the Berlin rule of 1884-1915 and then fell under South African rule for 75 years, before finally gaining independence in 1990.
Tensions rose in 1904 when the Herero – deprived of their livestock and land – arose, followed shortly after by the Nama, in a rebellion put down by German imperial forces.
In the Battle of Waterberg in August 1904, about 80,000 Herero, including women and children, fled and were chased by German forces into what is now known as the Kalahari Desert. Only 15,000 survived.
The German General Lothar von Trotha, sent to quell the rebellion, ordered the extermination of the peoples.
Between 1904 and 1908, at least 60,000 Hereros and about 10,000 Nama were killed.
Colonial soldiers carried out mass executions; banished men, women, and children to the wilderness where thousands died of thirst; and established notorious concentration camps, such as the one on Shark Island.
‘Overcome the Past’
The atrocities committed during colonization poisoned relations between Berlin and Windhoek for years.
In 2015, the two countries began negotiating an agreement that would combine an official apology from Germany and development aid.
But in August last year, Namibia said the reparations offered by Germany were unacceptable. No details about the offer were provided at the time.
President Hage Geingob had noted that Berlin refused to accept the term “reparations”, since that word was also avoided during the country’s negotiations with Israel after the Holocaust.
But in an effort to facilitate reconciliation, Germany returned the bones of members of the Herero and Nama tribes in 2018, with then Secretary of State Michelle Muentefering asking for “forgiveness from the bottom of my heart”.