Opinion › Feature Article     ›   31 May 2021

German-Namibian Reconciliation Agreement On Genocide Of The Ovaherero And Nama: Admission Of Genocide Without Any Legal Consequences?

Surviving Herero returning from Omaheke Desert where they had been driven by German troops after the Battle at Waterberg; two women in front were unable to stand.

We publish below a press release of the Berlin Postkolonial on the recent agreement between Namibia and Germany, the Reconciliation Agreement on the German genocides of the OvaHerero and Nama(1904-1908). Not having seen the actual text of the agreement, we also publish a press release of the German Foreign Ministry on the accord.

We comment briefly on the substance of the text as confirmed by comments in other newspapers and the note from the German Foreign Ministry. We reserve the right to comment fully on the ‘Reconciliation Agreement’ when the text is released.

Germany seems somewhat reluctant to recognize the genocides of 1904-1908 fully as genocides at International Law. A willingness to name ‘the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia and in particular the atrocities between 1904 and 1908. We will now officially call these events what they are from today’s perspective: a genocide.’ The qualification’ from today’s perspective’ suggests that in the past, such wilful killing of a people, the extermination of a people’ was somehow not against International Law. Indeed, the Genocide Convention of 1945 does not have a retrospective effect. Still, the German genocides of the Herero and Nama were not within any International Law provisions and indeed were against Germany’s duties as a colonizer.

One should avoid the mixing of compensation for genocide with development aid. The two are very different in nature and objectives and should keep them apart. The promised payment of 1.1 billion Euro ($1.3bn) over 30 years is for various infrastructural projects in Namibia, mostly in areas where the Herero and Nama live. We would have preferred compensation to be paid to the Herero and Nama peoples or at least in funds administered in consultation with their representatives. Germany did not want to describe the promised amount as ‘reparations’. Does this still leave room for a future claim for reparations for genocide? Whether this amount is adequate, given the losses suffered by the Herero and Nama and the benefits Germany derived from Namibia, may be questioned.

We must separate reparation for genocide from compensation for colonial confiscations, forced labour, the killing of Namibians and destruction of property.

The German president should make a sincere and comprehensive apology in the Namibian Parliament but also in the German parliament. Or is anybody afraid of opposition to this agreement in Germany?

Above all, one must reject the attempt by the German government to determine the rights of the victims of the Herero and Nama genocides at International Law. Would Germany even dream of such a stance towards the victims of Nazi atrocities? Germany cannot be judge and party in this case. Germany decides that its acceptance to pay compensation does not lead to legal rights: ‘Legal claims for compensation cannot be derived from it’. Recognition of genocide without legal consequences? An independent body should determine the rights and duties of the parties in the dispute.

Severe criticism is that the representatives of the Herero and Nama were not parties to the negotiations. The statement of the German Foreign Ministry that ’ Representatives of the Herero and Nama communities were closely involved in the negotiations on the Namibian side’ does not describe the participation of the Herero and Nama representatives as the peoples who were the principal victims of the German genocides. The text of the agreement should throw light on this consultation or involvement.

Two leaders, Chief Vekuii Rukoro, leader of the OvaHerero and Goab J. Isaac, head of Nama Traditional Leaders Association, rejected the agreement. Rukoro has called the deal a sellout.

African should scrutinize the Namibian-German agreement as it may establish a precedent for other African peoples with similar claims against former colonialist powers.

We have stated elsewhere our full views on the Namibian-German issues arising from the German genocides.

Kwame Opoku.

Return of stolen skulls by Germany to Namibia: Closure of a horrible chapter? https://www.pambazuka.org/governance/return-stolen-skulls-germany-namibia-closure-horrible-chapter Have Germans finally acknowledged the Namibian genocide? https://www.pambazuka.org/human-security/have-germans-finally-acknowledged-namibian-genocide Germany Still Refuses to Apologise for Genocide of Herero and Nama in Namibia https://www.modernghana.com/news/881795/germany-still-refuses-to-apologise-for-genocide.html.


Genocide against the OvaHerero and Namas: Germany's current "reconciliation agreement" with Namibia is doomed to failure

Berlin Postkolonial criticises the German-Namibian "reconciliation agreement" on the genocide of the OvaHerero and Namas (1904-08) as a step in the wrong direction. The association points to the fatal exclusion of non-governmental victims' associations in Namibia and German civil society from the negotiation process. Berlin Postkolonial also protests against the continuing non-recognition of the genocide in the sense of international law and the ongoing refusal of reparations by the Federal Republic of Germany.

From the information published so far on the so-called "Reconciliation Agreement", it is clear that the Namibian government, which is in dire financial straits, has not been able to achieve its proclaimed goals of (1) full recognition of the genocide under international law, (2) an official apology from the German side and (3) reparations from Germany.

According to the information available so far, the agreement includes the statement that the crime is to be "recognised as genocide from today's perspective". The German government thus falls even behind the position of the then Federal Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul in 2004, whose full recognition - i.e., also under international law - of the genocide was only relativised in the written version of her speech in Namibia. Thus, Germany does not recognise any obligation to make reparations in the current "reconciliation agreement" either; rather, it presents its services to Namibia as a voluntary aid action. Thus, the German government only declares its willingness to financially support social projects in the regions particularly affected by the genocide.

Berlin Postkolonial not only criticises the lack of transparency in the negotiation process, which has lasted for years. We protest in particular against the non-inclusion of the important non-governmental Herero and Nama victims' associations. The representatives of the descendants of the population groups most affected at the time, who were excluded from the bilateral talks, must not be ignored in the reconciliation process: without them, reconciliation - which cannot be forced - is unthinkable!

We therefore call on Federal Foreign Minister Maas not to sign the agreement, which causes frustration and strife instead of reconciliation, and declare our solidarity with the non-governmental associations of the OvaHerero (OTA) and Namas (NTLA)

Contact: Christian Kopp 01799 100 976, buero(at)berlin-postkolonial.de

Berlin Postkolonial e.V. Press Release,28.05.2021.


Foreign Minister Maas on the conclusion of negotiations with Namibia - Federal Foreign Office (auswaertiges-amt.de)

Foreign Minister Maas issued the following statement today (28 May) regarding the conclusion of negotiations with Namibia:

I am pleased and indeed grateful that we have agreed with Namibia on how to deal with the darkest chapter of our shared history. After more than five years, Ruprecht Polenz and his Namibian counterpart Zed Ngavirue were able to conclude the negotiations which they were conducting on behalf of our two Governments and based on the guidance of our two Parliaments. Representatives of the Herero and Nama communities were closely involved in the negotiations on the Namibian side.

Our aim was and remains to find a shared path towards genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims. This includes being unreserved and unflinching in naming the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia and in particular the atrocities between 1904 and 1908. We will now officially call these events what they are from today’s perspective: a genocide.

Given Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness.

As a gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering inflicted on the victims, we want to support Namibia and the victims’ descendants with a substantial programme to the tune of 1.1 billion euro for reconstruction and development. The communities affected by the genocide will play a key role in shaping and implementing this programme. Legal claims for compensation cannot be derived from it.

Meaningful reconciliation cannot be decreed from above. It is beyond doubt that the crimes committed during German colonial rule have long been a burden on our relations with Namibia. The past cannot be put to rest. Recognising our guilt and offering an apology however is an important step to come to terms with the crimes of the past and to shape the future together.

Background Information:

The projects financed by Germany focus, at the request of the Namibian side, on the fields of land reform, including the purchase and development of land, agriculture, rural infrastructure and water supplies, as well as vocational education, as central priorities in the – partly marginalised – areas where the Nama and Herero have settled. These projects are to be implemented in addition to bilateral development cooperation which is also to be continued.

By Kwame Opoku, Dr.
Former Legal Adviser, United Nations Office, Vienna.

Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect ModernGhana official position. ModernGhana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements in the contributions or columns here."

More From Author

View The Full Site