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German president apologizes for colonial crimes in Tanzania

November 1, 2023

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked for forgiveness for the crimes committed by the military during Germany's colonial rule of Tanzania.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stands in the background at the Maji Maji Memorial Park
Between 200,000 to 300,000 Indigenous people were said to have been killed by German troopsImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Wednesday sought forgiveness for crimes committed during the country's colonial rule in Tanzania.

"I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here," Steinmeier said during a visit to the Maji Maji Museum in the southern Tanzanian city of Songea. Tanzania was part of German East Africa.

"I want to assure you that we Germans will search with you for answers to the unanswered questions that give you no peace," he added.

German president apologizes for colonial crimes in Tanzania

What was Steinmeier apologizing for?

Experts estimate between 200,000 and 300,000 members of the Indigenous Tanzanian population were murdered during the so-called Maji Maji Rebellion uprisings between 1905 and 1907.

Seen as one of the bloodiest uprisings in colonial history, German troops participated in the systematic destruction of fields and villages.

Speaking of the "shame" felt towards the events, Steinmeier said Germany was ready to work with Tanzania towards a "communal processing" of the past.

The president promised to share the stories he learned at the Maji Maji Museum with the people of Germany, adding, "What happened here is our shared history — the history of your ancestors and the history of our ancestors in Germany."

On Tuesday, on the second day of Steinmeier's three-day trip to Tanzania, the German president said Germany would consider "the repatriation of cultural property and human remains."

What is Tanzania's place within the African continent?

In 2021, Germany officially acknowledged committing genocide during its colonial occupation of Namibia. It announced financial compensation to make up for the crimes.

Germany held several colonies from 1884 until the end of World War I. These included territories in modern‑day Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Namibia, Cameroon, Togo and Ghana.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stands with cultural leaders looking at a memorial
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spent three days in Tanzania in an attempt to strengthen tiesImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

Germany and Tanzania are aiming to restrengthen their relations, with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan the only female head of state with executive powers on the African continent.

The 63-year-old has reversed many of her predecessor's policies including bans on demonstrations, restoring newspapers' licenses and releasing imprisoned opposition leaders.

Amnesty International, however, still notes that there are many human rights deficiencies within the country, including limitations on the press and freedom of assembly.

Tanzania has one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa and is expected to achieve a 4.9% economic growth rate for the current year, higher than anticipated for Germany.

km/sms (DPA, AFP)

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