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Germany officially accepts its crimes against the people of Namibia4 min read

June 1, 2021 3 min read


Germany officially accepts its crimes against the people of Namibia4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last Friday, Germany did something that was a long time coming. It formally recognised the crimes committed by its colonial troops at the beginning of the 20th  century against the Herero and Nama people in what is now Namibia, Africa.

Credit: CGTN Africa

After five years of talks between the two countries, this is the first time that Berlin has accepted the genocide and horrors committed.

What is a genocide?

It is the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.

What crimes did Germany commit in Namibia?

The German Empire was the colonial power in what was then called German South West Africa from 1884 to 1915. During that time, its military forces took brutal action against many rebellions of the local people against the colonists. This resulted in the killing of thousands of people.

A clipping from an old German newspaper.

Historians say that up to 65,000 of roughly 80,000 Herero people living in the area at the time, and at least 10,000 of the roughly 20,000 Nama people, were killed.

What did Germany say?

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that as a “gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering” Germany caused, it would set up a fund amounting to $1.34 billion.

Communities affected by Germany’s actions would play a key role in deciding what the funds are used for. This fund would be separate from the compensation given to families directly affected.

What was the point of colonialism?

Colonialism was the practice of taking full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. Some reasons for colonialism were:

  • Discovery of new lands new routes to conduct trade
  • Countries like England, France, Spain and Portugal established their colonies primarily for the economic benefits.
  • Competition among European nations was another reason. Colonisation was started by Spain and Portugal. Gradually, other countries like France and England also entered the race. Acquiring new colonies became about pride. Moreover, due to various economic benefits of colonisation, a stage of ‘competitive colonialism’ started among the European countries.
  • There was also a major effort to spreading Christianity.
  • Colonial powers found free labour in the people of the lands they took over.

The aim of the five years of negotiations was “to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims,” Maas explained. This plan includes naming the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia and in particular the crimes in the period from 1904 to 1908 “without sparing or glossing over.”

“We will now, also in an official capacity, call these events what they were from today’s perspective — a genocide,” Maas said.

How has Namibia reacted?

The skulls of people who died in the genocide.
Credit: AP Photo

While the Namibian president has agreed that this is the first step in the right direction, some representatives of the Herero and Nama people have criticised the agreement, saying that it was just a publicity stunt by Germany.

The communities in Namibia have also asked for Germany to return the tens of thousands of stolen body parts belonging to their ancestors which are being kept in German museums and libraries. They also want looted art to be returned to the country.

Both these issues are yet to be addressed by German authorities.

What happens now?

A formal declaration is expected to be signed in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, later this month.  Parliaments in both countries must then ratify, or sign, the declaration. 

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is then expected to officially apologise for Germany’s crimes in front of the Namibian Parliament.

Sources: Indian Express, DW, Reuters