Germany agrees to pay Namibia US$1,3bn for colonial genocide

BERLIN. — Germany yesterday formally recognised as genocide the crimes committed by its colonial troops at the beginning of the 20th century against the Herero and Nama people in what is now Namibia.

It’s the first time that Berlin has recognised the atrocities committed, with the declaration coming after five years of negotiations.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that as a “gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering” Germany caused, it would set up a fund amounting to €1,1 billion (US $1,34 billion).

Affected communities would play a key role in deciding what the funds were used for, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, while legal claims for compensation would not be deducted from it.

The aim of the negotiations that lasted more than half a decade was “to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims,” Maas explained.

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This includes naming the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia and in particular the atrocities in the period from 1904 to 1908 “without sparing or glossing over”.

“We will now, also in an official capacity, call these events what they were from today’s perspective — a genocide,” Maas said.

Representative of the Herero and Nama communities were closely involved in the years-long negotiations with Namibia.

“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 Alfredo Hengari said.

Some representatives of the Herero and Nama peoples have voiced criticism of the agreement, saying that it was a PR stunt by Germany and a bid to defraud the Namibian government.

Members of both groups have demanded an official apology from Germany, as well as financial reparation.

An analyst called the move “highly symbolic” and pointed out that talks had been with the Namibian government rather than the Herero and Nama people directly.

Germany also chose to give a financial package rather than compensation for the colonial crimes which is what the affected groups had asked for, said the analyst.

“The representatives of the traditional Herero and Nama communities would have liked Germany to agree to give compensation to atone for the past,” she said.

The communities in Namibia have also asked for Germany to return the tens of thousands of stolen body parts belonging to their ancestors which are being kept in German museums and libraries. They also want looted art to be returned to the country.

Both issues remain to be addressed by German authorities. Germany began talks with the Namibian government in 2015 on what was termed a “future-oriented reappraisal of German colonial rule.’’

Germany’s former development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, offered her country’s first apology for the killings on a trip to Namibia in 2004.

The declaration is expected to be signed by Maas in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, in early June. Parliaments in both countries must then ratify the declaration.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is then expected to officially apologise for Germany’s crimes in front of the Namibian Parliament. – DW.