Germany offers $1.8 billion to Namibia to atone for genocide

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the events of the German colonial period should be named "without sparing or glossing over them".
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the events of the German colonial period should be named "without sparing or glossing over them".PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BERLIN (REUTERS, AFP) - Germany apologised on Friday (May 28) for its role in the slaughter of Herero and Nama tribes people in Namibia more than a century ago and officially described the massacre as genocide for the first time, as it agreed to fund projects worth over a billion euros.

But Herero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro rejected as insulting a deal agreed by the German and Namibian governments because it did not include payment of reparations.

"That's a black cat in the bag instead of reparations for a crime against humanity," Mr Rukoro told Reuters, referring to a German commitment to fund €1.1 billion (S$1.8 billion) of reconstruction and development projects in Namibia.

"No self-respecting African will accept such an insult in this day and age from a so-called civilised European nation."

German soldiers killed some 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people in a 1904-1908 campaign after a revolt against land seizures by colonists in what historians and the United Nations have long called the first genocide of the 20th century.

While Germany previously acknowledged "moral responsibility" for the killings, it had avoided making an official apology for the massacres to avoid compensation claims.

In a statement announcing an agreement with Namibia following more than five years of negotiations, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the events of the German colonial period should be named "without sparing or glossing over them".

"We will now also officially call these events what they were from today's perspective: a genocide," Mr Maas said.

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

The German funding will directly benefit the genocide-affected communities, he said.

Namibia said Germany's acknowledgement on Friday was a "step in the right direction".

"The acceptance on the part of Germany that a genocide was committed is the first step in the right direction," President Hage Geingob's spokesman, Mr Alfredo Hengari, told AFP.

"It is the basis for the second step, which is an apology, to be followed by reparations," he said.

Namibian media reported on Thursday that the money would support infrastructure, healthcare and training programmes over 30 years.

Ms Anne Marcus, a 34-year-old German living in Namibia, said she was suspicious of the announcement because it came at a time when Namibia was financially vulnerable.

"I think it was a very opportune time for the Germans to act and agree on something, knowing that there was a likelihood for Namibia to accept whatever offer came their way. So I'm not entirely sure justice has been served," she said.

The south-west African country saw its economy contract by a record 8 per cent in 2020 as it was hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, it received its first-ever funds from the International Monetary Fund to address the country's deteriorating fiscal position.

Germany, which lost all its colonial territories after World War I, was the third-biggest colonial power after Britain and France. However, its colonial past was ignored for decades while historians and politicians focused more on the legacy of Nazi crimes, including the Holocaust.

In 2015, it began formal negotiations with Namibia over the issue and in 2018 returned skulls and other remains of massacred tribes people that were used in colonial-era experiments to assert claims of European racial superiority.