Finally, Germany is officially accepting responsibility for the genocide against the Hereros and Namas. Finally, a German president is going to say the words they've been waiting to hear for over 100 years. Finally, Germany is not going to ignore this brutal crime any longer.
It's a big step forward, at least from a German perspective. But the first reactions from Namibia tell a different story. President Hage Geingob's spokesman has, rather diplomatically, called Germany's announcement "a step in the right direction." And a group of traditional leaders from the Herero and Nama communities have bluntly called it a "PR coup" and an offense against Namibia.
Anger among some Herero and Namas
Emotions are running high after almost six years of closed-door negotiations. Some Herero and Nama leaders have long demanded direct talks with the German government. They are not convinced that their communities are really going to benefit from the €1 billion ($1.2 billion) reconstruction program that Germany has announced. And they're angry about Germany's statements that there is no legal basis for reparations — which in their eyes sounds as if Germany views the apology as a kind of gift. Other Herero and Nama leaders have supported the negotiations. But nobody knows who is representing the majority.
A heavy burden of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the two governments. Germany's request for forgiveness is only going to be worth anything if the majority of Namibians accepts it. And that requires trust — a big challenge for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He has to find the right words to convince the skeptics that Germany is sincere — something he's capable of doing. The president is a man who knows about the power of words and how to find the right words at the right moment.
After an apology, the work begins
But it's not just about words. Gestures matter as well. Asking for an apology in front of the Namibian parliament is an important step. But it's equally important to repeat it in the home areas of the Herero and Nama, in front of them and in front of their memorial sites for the victims.
Beyond words, the work must continue. Reconciliation does not come about with the stroke of a pen. Reconciliation begins when streets and memorials in Germany no longer uncritically remember the perpetrators of colonialism, but the victims. Reconciliation begins when all German pupils learn about the genocide in school. Reconciliation begins when German tourists that come to Namibia do not just see the picturesque buildings from the German era, but also recognize the terrible history behind them.
Reconciliation begins when not just the president and the government, but a majority of Germans recognize the crimes German troops committed. Reconciliation begins, when the majority of all Namibians, particularly the Herero and Nama believe that Germany is serious about its request for forgiveness. Reconciliation begins, when Germans and Namibians one day stand and shed tears together in memory of the victims. There is still a long way to go.
This article was translated from German.