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How Is Germany ‘Insulting’ Namibia In Colonial Genocide Reparations Talks?

August 25th, 2020
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Namibia, Germany
tags:colonialism, development aid, genocide, herero and nama

Could revelations by Namibia that Germany has offered a paltry €10 million reparation an attempt to use embarrassment as a stick to goad the former colonial master into speeding up the slow negotiations?

In June, just when the world was engulfed in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that were ignited by the killing of George Floyd in the USA, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob shared shocking news in the country’s parliament: that Germany had offered €10 million ($11,7 million) as reparations for the estimated 100,000 Herero and Nama African tribesmen that were massacred by German forces in a colonial era genocide. This figure translates to about €100 per victim.

“First they offered €10 million... honestly it is an insult”, The Namibian quoted Geingob as saying in Parliament in response to queries from opposition members on progress in the five-year reparations talks. Geingob did not elaborate further.

However in mid-August the Namibian Presidency followed up on the issue by releasing a statement in which it updated the nation on the ongoing reparations talks. In this statement, President Geingob revealed the stance adopted by his government that the reparations offered by the former colonial power for the 1904-1908 mass killings were “not acceptable” and needed to be “revised”.

German South West Africa

Namibia, formerly German South West Africa, was a Germany colony from 1884 to 1919. After Germany’s defeat in World War 1, it was stripped of its colonies, resulting in Namibia becoming mandated to South Africa by the League of Nations (1919-1990).

“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 the statement after being briefed by his government’s special envoy, Zed Ngavirue, on the status of negotiations ahead of the final round of the talks, the date if which is yet to be set.

Geingob added that the Namibian envoy had been tasked to “continue with negotiations for a revised offer.” It is this statement that caught global attention, drawing mixed reactions.

Amount Shamefully Low

The €10 million amount said to have been put on the table by Germany took many by surprise, leading to howls of condemnation across the globe.

DW’s Claus Stäcker, in an opinion piece agreed with the Namibian government that the amount offered was too low.

“And it’s true: The figure is so shameful and ridiculously low that it in no way resembles a serious offer of reparations,” Stäcker said. “€10 million can in no way be the result of five years of interrupted negotiations following the mass murder of the Herero and Nama people exactly 116 years ago after the battle of Waterberg, which was to become the first genocide of the 20th century.”

“Although the death toll and other details of the genocide vary depending on who may be trying to turn them to their favour, one thing remains clear and cannot be glossed over. And that is that negotiations must be concluded and that an official German apology is long overdue.”

Lester Holloway, a black British journalist and editor, went further to break down the figure into simpler terms. “100 Euros per life... just so insulting,” Holloway said in a tweet. “Namibia right to reject Germany’s reparations offer for the Herero genocide, an attempt to exterminate the entire tribe involving concentration camps.”

Amount Disowned

As the chorus of condemnation grew, the German government emerged to disown the figure peddled by the Namibian president.

Ruprecht Polenz, the German envoy for the talks with Namibia, told DW that he was not aware of where the offer of €10 million had came from. “I don’t know where that number comes from. I’ve never spoken with the Namibian side about such concrete figures,” Polenz said.

$4 Billion Demanded

Historians estimate that the massacres wiped out 75 percent of the Herero population and about 50 percent of the Nama population. Descendants of survivors of these massacres are demanding $4 billion in reparations from the German government. These activists point to the more than $80 billion in reparations that Germany has paid to Holocaust and to Israel as justification of the reasonableness of their own expectations.

While the motion to receive an apology and reparations for the genocide was tabled in the Namibian Parliament in 2006, formal negotiations only started in 2015 and since then eight rounds of talks have taken place without any agreement on substantive issues.

Back To Guerilla War Tactics?

With the two sides no longer singing from the same hymn sheet, it is not easy to separate the truth from falsities. However, whichever way the case might be, by deciding to make public some disputed details of the closely-guarded talks—right in the aftermath of BLM outcries—President Geingob could have primed his move to elicit maximum global sympathy to his side. Geingob—himself a former propaganda strategist in the 30-liberation struggle that resulted in Namibia’s independence in 1990—may have resorted to supplementing diplomacy with a bit of propaganda. He may have used the resultant embarrassment to break the intransigence on the German side of the negotiation table, which has seen the protracted talks making very limited success.

If that was his intention, it appears that it has done the trick. The global media carried the story much to the embarrassment of the Germany government, which prompted it to issue a denial. By Berlin denying ever making the €10 million offer, this puts the former colonial master in a position where it may have to show—in a practical way— that these claims are false by putting a handsome sum on the table.

Terminology Also Subject of Dispute

In the June address to Parliament Geingob also claimed that Germany had indicated its readiness to formally apologise for the colonial genocide, a claim that Berlin has not formally confirmed or gainsaid. Although several historians have called the Herero and Nama massacres the first genocide of the 20th century, it is a classification that the German government has until now stridently refused to officially accept.

The Namibian president also pointed out that Germany has declined to accept the term “reparations”, as that word was also avoided during the country’s negotiations with Israel after the Holocaust. Namibia is in turn also rejecting Germany’s reference to the reparations as “healing the wounds”, saying the terminology would also be subject to further debate.

Germany only recently acknowledged responsibility for the violent sins of its colonial past following numerous conferences, court trials and summonses, which landed the two nations in the United States District Court of New York in 2018.

Prior to this, some individual German government officials had acknowledged and even apologised for the past atrocities, but as a country Germany has not yet done so.

Tricky Conditions For Reparations

The Namibians insist that any reparations payment must come in tow of a formal apology, not on its own. Namibia’s Ngavirue has always insisted that, “Our case rests on three pillars, namely acknowledgement of genocide, apology and reparation.”
It is also this condition that puts Germany in a corner. 

According to the German negotiator, it was up to the Namibian side of the negotiations table to signal the way forward in the talks: “Germany would rather apologise today than tomorrow for these crimes,” Polenz said. “As it is, when one wants to apologise, one cannot say ‘we want to apologise, so get on with it’. The Namibian side should have all the time it needs.”

Development Aid Not Reparations

In the past the German government has repeatedly poured water on any prospects of reparations payment, always being quick to highlight that Namibia has benefited immensely from its development aid since the country gained its Independence 30 years ago.

However that position could also be changing. Asked in January by The Namibian newspaper if the nearly $1 billion in development aid extended to Namibia by Germany was some form of reparation to the former colony, the newly-appointed German ambassador in Windhoek, Herbert Beck, said it was not the case.

“I think the [reparation] negotiations are a clear indication that it is not a trade-off between development cooperation and addressing the plight of the affected Herero and Nama communities. It is not like we give you development cooperation, therefore, you cannot expect anything for those [affected] groups,” Beck said. In spite of the latest developments, Polenz remains upbeat about the two sides finding each other.

“What matters is that the negotiations are ongoing, and I am still optimistic that a solution can be found. Germany wants to live up to its moral and political responsibility,” he said.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Namibia Germany
Germany had offered a measly €10 million ($11,7 million) as reparations for the estimated 100 000 Herero and Nama African tribesmen that were massacred by German forces in a colonial era genocide.
President Geingob revealed the stance adopted by his government that the reparations offered by the former colonial power for the 1904-1908 mass killings were “not acceptable” and needed to be “revised”.
“What matters is that the negotiations are ongoing, and I am still optimistic that a solution can be found. Germany wants to live up to its moral and political responsibility.”