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Rule of LawNamibia

Germany's Steinmeier pays tribute to Namibian late president

February 24, 2024

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Hage Geingob will always be remembered for reaching out "across the dark abyss of our history." Germany recognized the murder of Herero and Nama people as genocide in 2021.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (2nd R) arrives at Independence Stadium in Windhoek, Namibia, February 24, 2024 for the memorial service for late Namibian President Hage Geingob.
Steinmeier said he hoped to take relations between the two countries to the next level and that regrettably Geingob wouldn't see itImage: Michael Petrus/AFP

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier honored the life of Namibia's late president and founding Prime Minister Hage Geingob in a memorial service in the capital Windhoek Saturday.

"Here in Namibia, he will be remembered for the pivotal role he played in drafting the Namibian Constitution and leading this country towards democracy, stability and prosperity," Steinmeier said.

But in Germany, Steinmeier said "President Geingob will forever be remembered for having the courage to reach out to the German people across the dark abyss of our history."

Steinmeier was referring to colonial Germany's massacre of tens of thousands of people in Namibia. Germany has agreed to provide funding to help the communities affected, but it has stopped short of formal reparations which many have demanded.

"Reconciliation is not about closing the past, it is about taking responsibility for our past and it is a commitment to a better future," Steinmeier said during his tribute to Geingob, who had been president of the southern African country since 2015 and was set to finish his second and final term this year.

Steinmeier asked for 'honorable' deal for tribespeople

Namibian opposition leader McHenry Venaani told Steinmeier at the memorial service, as reported by the AFP news agency, that "Our people are expecting to see the Namibian German case of genocide be settled."

"We plead to you when you go back, what is on the negotiating table creates a respectable deal on behalf of our people. Creates an honorable deal so that we close this chapter."

What colonial crimes did Germany commit in Africa?

Venaani and victim groups have repeatedly voiced their criticism of a joint political declaration that was drawn up between Germany and Namibia in 2021 marking the first time the two states negotiated reparations for colonialism.

They expressed dissatisfaction at the 2021 agreement because they want Germany to pay reparations directly to the Herero and Nama and not to the Namibian government. 

They have also said it was wrong for Herero and Nama to have been involved only indirectly in talks.

What Berlin said about the deal with Namibia

Former German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in 2021 that Germany would support Namibia and the descendants of the victims with the €1.1 billion ($1.3 billion) "rebuilding and development" program as "a gesture of recognition of the incalculable suffering."

That reflects Germany’s position that the Genocide Convention of 1948 — created in response to the Holocaust committed by Nazi Germany — cannot be applied retroactively and that its liability is political and moral rather than legal.

In January, shortly before his death, Geingob criticized Germany for supporting Israel after South Africa filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice accusing it of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

He said that Germany had been unable to "draw lessons from its horrific history," saying that Berlin could not take a moral position on the genocide convention or even its position on Namibia while also supporting what Geingob called the "equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza."

rm/ab (AFP, AP)