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Ethnic leaders in Namibia reject German genocide apology

May 31, 2021

The Council of Chiefs, a body representing the Herero and Nama people, have rejected an offer to fund infrastructure projects in Namibia as a means of apologizing for the genocide during Germany's colonial rule.

Namibia | Protest in Windhoek
The proposed deal already sparked angry protests outside the German embassy in Namibia last FridayImage: Sonja Smith/AP/picture alliance

A group of ethnic leaders in Namibia on Monday rejected a deal proposed by Germany that recognizes that the colonial occupation of the country amounted to genocide.

German settlers killed thousands of Herero and Nama people from 1904 to 1908, after the tribes rebelled against Berlin’s rule in the colony, which was German Southwest Africa at the time.

Last week, the German government acknowledged that those massacres were genocide and pledged €1.1 billion ($1.34 billion) in financial aid over a 30-year period.

The money would be used to finance infrastructure, health care and training projects.

But, in a statement released on Monday, the Council of Chiefs rejected the "insulting amount" as "unacceptable” and "an affront to our existence."

The group called on the Namibian government to renegotiate the deal because the amount was not directly linked to reparations.

Some ethnic leaders staged protests outside the German embassy in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, on Friday as the proposed agreement was announced.

A similar protest took place in Berlin earlier on Monday.

Protesters in Berlin brandish a sign calling for direct reparations to Namibia
Protesters in Berlin called for Germany to pay reparations to descendants of the victimsImage: Paul Zinken/dpa//picture alliance

The Namibian government expressed surprise at the reaction from the Council of Chiefs.

The chief negotiator, Zed Ngavirue, told the DPA news agency that the council had been involved throughout the talks.

"I think Germany was aware of the fact that in this country there are divisions which exist," he was quoted as saying.

He said Windhoek was now assessing to what extent the opinion of the ethnic leaders "needs to be taken into serious consideration."

CDU member: Germany 'ready to return remaining human remains' of Namibians

What did the German and Namibian governments say?

After more than five years of negotiations, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday that Germany "will now also officially call these events what they were from today's perspective: a genocide."

"In light of Germany's historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness," he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks outside the Foreign Ministry in Berlin
Maas announced the deal on Friday after five years of talks with WindhoekImage: Tobias Schwarz/AP Photo/picture alliance

A spokesman for Namibia's president, Hame Geingob, called the move a "step in the right direction" on Friday.

What did Germany do in Namibia?

Germany took control of Namibia in 1884 until it lost the colony in 1915, during World War I.

German settlers brutally repressed uprisings against their rule, killing thousands of Herero and Nama people.

Archive photo of Herero who survived brutal repression at the hands of German settlers
The Herero (pictured) and Nama tribes were repressed by settlersImage: public domain

Lothar von Trotha, a German general sent by Berlin to put down the rebellion, ordered the peoples’ extermination.

His soldiers drove people into exile and rounded up men, women and children, placing them in concentration camps.

Many of the victims were used as slave labor in the camps, where thousands died from exhaustion, starvation and disease.

Why don't Germans know about their part in the slave trade?

Though Germany has previously admitted its "moral responsibility" for the killings, it long avoided making an official apology to ward off compensation claims.

The refusal to do so led many historians to call the killings "the forgotten genocide" of the early 20th century, souring ties with the West African nation for decades.

According to the United Nations, genocide is defined as killing committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

jf/csb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)