Presently Namibian and German special envoys are engaged in negotiation talks on the Herero and Nama genocide. A genocide dubbed as the first in the 20th century and yet to be recognised as such. Summarily the negotiation conclusions at this stage are that “Germany will apologise but refuses to pay reparations”. Hence this article probes into the implications of the so-called apology for both governments as well as the Herero and Nama communities. And perhaps the Damara’s as well, we do not know for sure. To contextualise, in 1989, just before Namibia attained independence, the German Bundestag passed a resolution on the 15th March 1989 recognising special responsibility towards Namibia and her people. The special responsibility as laid out in the resolution was to firstly, financially support the United Nations (UN) in its efforts to ensure Namibian independence in 1989. Secondly it meant that Germany will strive to pursue economic, development and cultural cooperation with Namibia. It also encompassed the promotion of democracy and the rule of law in Namibia as well as protecting the interests of the minority German-speaking Namibians.
Today this responsibility is visible in the Namibian public space because Namibia is the biggest recipient of German development aid on per capita basis in Africa. German development aid to Namibia is used in three main areas namely; management of natural resources as well as transport and sustainable economic development’. This development aid, does not only go straight to government coffers but it is also the muscle behind the work of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and German political foundations in Namibia. Thus the only fitting assumption is that German aid could have been veiled reparations of sorts. This is because even the German embassy website in Namibia clearly states that
“The bilateral development cooperation is an integral part and fundamental pillar of the special relationship between Namibia and Germany”. What exactly is that special relationship if not colonization, of which the Herero and Nama genocide is a dire consequence of.
Hence in order to understand why Germany will not pay genocide reparations, the answer lies in the millions of aid money pumped into Namibia for the past 26 years. Of course the legal arguments are also vital because it has been over 100 years since the genocide was committed and the task of legally proofing who the beneficiaries are if reparation payments were to be made figuratively speaking is quite the challenge and not to mention that the number of contradictory genocide claims by the Namibian communities themselves somewhat complicates the issue.
Nonetheless it is no surprise that the Namibian government is settling for an apology without compensation because in a sense the reparation part has been cloaked in bilateral development cooperation and is most likely to continue as such without really stating it bluntly. Nonetheless it remains evident that the fine print of the apology is in bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
The apology bears more opportunity for Germany than it does for Namibia because it would mean ending dialogue on an issue that the German government has been carefully avoiding confrontation since German re-unification. Noticeably Germany is set on tying all loose ends when it comes to genocide issues especially since on the 2nd June 2016, the German Bundestag unanimously passed a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide and admitting ‘guilt’ for its passive role during the genocide. The Armenian genocide was directly committed by Turkey hence it makes sense that Germany is not legally liable thus making its recognition moral.
Similarly, this seems to be the same route we can anticipate on the Herero and Nama genocide despite the fact that in the Herero and Nama genocide, Germany is the legal and direct perpetrator and in the words of the Deputy Spokesperson of the Federal Foreign Office, Mrs Savan Chebli when questioned on genocide compensation, “As far as the question of compensation, as you called it, or legal consequences is concerned: This does not have any legal consequences, not at all. Rather, the issue of compensation is of no consequence with regards to the question of how we deal with the history or how we describe history.
This we have also expressed on numerous occasions and this stance has basically not changed”. Therefore, making it clear that the apology is but a moral gesture for the genocide. The 1989 German Bundestag resolution declaring special affinity to Namibia should have been the first clue on the stance of the German government when it comes to atoning for the Herero and Nama genocide. It appears that nothing has changed as the motive then was to avoid compensation of any sorts and instead pursue cooperation with the Namibian government. The type of cooperation that would ensure eventual closure of the genocide issue altogether in such a manner that an apology can be issued that would have no legal consequences for the Federal Republic. This is still the statuesque and one can only conclude that indeed the fine print in the so-called genocide apology is visible in a basket of bilateral cooperation. A basket from which our government has eaten and continues to eat fruits from.
Overall the challenge at hand or direct implications of the apology for the Namibian government will be appeasing the affected communities with the negotiation outcomes. Is the apology amble compensation for the Herero and Nama communities (And maybe the Damara’s) or are we envisioning future tribal tensions within the Namibian public space as a result? That remains a conversation for another day.
Rakkel Andreas is an MA European and International Studies graduate from the Centre International de Formation Européen (CIFE) in Nice-France as well as BA in Media Studies and Political Science from the University of Namibia. The viewpoints expressed by the author are inspired by her thesis titled “The influence of German Political identity on its foreign policy: An analysis on the special case of Namibia”.