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Namibian opposition rails against settlement with Germany

June 8, 2021

Lawmakers in Windhoek debated a settlement that will see Germany apologize and pay for past atrocities. But opposition lawmakers are furious about being cut out of talks.

A young Herero man in a shanty town in Okakarara, Namibia
As Germany agrees to pay and Namibia debates, many Herero descendants continue to live in povertyImage: Adrian Kriesch/DW

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila was heckled by parliamentarians on Tuesday when she opened debate over the government's reconciliation settlement with Germany.  

"This issue is indeed a sensitive one. It is important that we do not become divided over this issue, but remain united as a nation in pursuing it until its logical conclusion," she said before outlining the details.

At issue is an agreement between the governments in Windhoek and Berlin, in which Germany would officially apologize for colonial atrocities committed by imperial Germany in the early 20th century — in what was then known as German South West Africa — asking victims' descendants for forgiveness and offering €1.1 billion ($1.3 billion) over the next 30 years as recompense.

Namibian opposition: Windhoek's 'apartheid' policies

But Namibian opposition politicians were furious about being excluded from negotiations, savaging their own government's approach was akin to apartheid: "They have excluded communities, groups of Namibians ... that is apartheid that government has practiced," said Edson Isaacks of the Landless People's Movement (LPM).

"We will not be party to any signatory for things that we did not participate in. That agreement can be signed between Germany and the Namibian government, but the vast majority of Nama and Herero people will reject it with the contempt it deserves," said National Unity Democratic Organization (NUDO) leader Josef Kauandenge.

Prime Minister Kuugongelwa-Amadhila pushed back, saying the affected communities were "fully consulted during the negotiations."

Nama reject German compensation offer

Germany acknowledges past crimes as genocide

Negotiations between Namibia and Germany began in 2015 over the historic massacre of Herero and Nama people between 1904 and 1908.

After years of sensitive negotiations, both governments reached agreement on the terms of a reconciliation deal last month, with Germany officially acknowledging crimes committed by the imperial German army against rebelling Nama and Herero as genocide.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila assured parliamentarians that Berlin would "render an unconditional apology to the affected communities" and the nation.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will deliver the apology in Namibia's National Assembly on a yet to be determined date.

Parliament is set to vote on the agreement within the next several days. Should it gain approval it would then be available for both countries' foreign ministers to sign. That date, too, remains to be determined.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila's government holds a comfortable majority in parliament, suggesting that the deal might have reasonable chances of success despite the opposition voiced on Tuesday. 

German South West Africa was a colony of the German Empire from 1884 to 1915. Historians say some 65,000 of the 85,000 Herero and at least 10,000 of the 20,000 Nama living there at the time were killed by imperial German forces in what was likely the first genocide of the 20th century.      

Herero and Nama disagree on Germany-Namibia deal

js/msh (AFP, dpa)