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Germany owns up to another genocide, one in Africa decades before Holocaust

Skulls of people killed in Namibia by Germans
Skulls of Ovaherero and Nama people who were killed by Germans during the colonial era in what is now Namibia.
(Michael Sohn / Associated Press)

Germany has reached an agreement with Namibia that will see it officially recognize the colonial-era killings of tens of thousands of people as genocide and commit it to spending $1.3 billion there, largely on development projects.

The accord announced Friday is the result of more than five years of talks with Namibia on the events of 1904-1908, when Germany was the southern African country’s colonial ruler.

Historians say German Gen. Lothar von Trotha, who was sent to what was then German South West Africa to put down an uprising by the Herero people in 1904, instructed his troops to wipe out the entire tribe. They say that about 65,000 Herero and at least 10,000 Nama were killed.

“In the light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement.

“Our aim was and is to find a joint path to genuine reconciliation in remembrance of the victims,” he said. “That includes our naming the events of the German colonial era in today’s Namibia, and particularly the atrocities between 1904 and 1908, unsparingly and without euphemisms.

“We will now officially call these events what they were from today’s perspective: a genocide.”

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Talks between Germany and Namibia opened in 2015, more than a decade after a 2004 visit to Namibia in which then-German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul offered Germany’s first apology for the killings, which she said were “what today would be labeled as genocide.”

Maas said that “as a gesture of recognition of the incalculable suffering,” Germany plans to support Namibia and the descendants of the victims with a $1.3-billion “rebuilding and development” program in whose design and implementation “the communities affected by the genocide will take a decisive role.”

At the same time, he said that “legal claims to compensation cannot be derived from this.”

That reflects Germany’s position that the Genocide Convention of 1948 can’t be applied retroactively and that its liability is political and moral rather than legal.

President Biden on Saturday formally recognized as a genocide the killing of more than 1 million Armenians starting in 1915.

The projects Germany will fund are expected to stretch over 30 years and will cover areas such as land reform, including land purchases, agriculture, rural infrastructure, water supply and vocational training. They will be separate from continuing development aid to Namibia.

Germany says that representatives of the Herero and Nama were involved in the negotiations, although Berlin’s direct dealings have been with the Namibian government.

Germany gained control of the desert country in the 1880s and surrendered the territory to South Africa in 1915. Namibia gained independence in 1990.


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