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Germany to address 'dark' colonial legacy in Tanzania

October 31, 2023

Germany will confront "the atrocities of the German colonial occupation" in Tanzania, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania was a German colony from 1885 to 1918.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier with his counterpart President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Dar es Salaam, Oct. 31, 2023
Steinmeier next travels to Songea in southern Tanzania to visit the Maji Maji Museum and to meet descendants of enslaved peopleImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his country would "open negotiations" with Tanzania to discuss the legacy of its colonial rule in the East African nation.

"We must not forget the past," Steinmeier said after meeting President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Dar es Salaam on the second day of his three-day tour.

He said relations between the countries are "overshadowed by the atrocities of the German colonial occupation in the former German East Africa."

"It is important to me that we come to terms with this dark chapter, that we come to terms with it together," he said.

Steinmeier added that Germany was open to cooperating with Tanzania on the "repatriation of cultural property and human remains."

Germany confronts its colonial legacy

The German colonial power ruled Tanzania, then known as Tanganyika, from the 1880s until 1918, when British forces captured it during World War I.

German colonial forces violently put down the Maji Maji rebellion between 1905 and 1907, when several tribes banded together to rise up against their colonial power.

The German army quelled the rebellion, with experts estimating that some 200,000 to 300,000 people died during the years.

German colonial forces used several tactics to target their opponents, from destroying fields to forced starvation. 

Namibians remember Germany's colonial rule

Steinmeier says he plans to meet people affected by the Maji Maji rebellion

Steinmeier, who is visiting Tanzania on an official tour, said he planned to meet people affected by the Maji Maji rebellion during his tour.

"It is important that we agree on doing more research and adding more knowledge on what happened during the colonial period so that we can see how to turn a new page," he said on the second day of the tour and when he met the Tanzanian president.

Tanzanian politicians have long pushed for Tanzanian human remains displayed in German museums to be returned.

"I know there are families that are waiting for the remains of their relatives which are in several museums in Germany. The negotiations will guide us on how to do this well," President Hassan said.

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

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

rm/wd (Reuters, AFP)