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Expert criticizes Germany’s ‘shoddy’ payment of €1.1 billion to Namibia for colonial crimes

Only in 2015 did Germany officially recognise colonial atrocities committed in Namibia between 1905 and 1907 as genocide and finally, on 27th May this year, agree to pay €1.1 billion over 30 years in a reconciliatory agreement, after nine rounds of negotiations with Namibian officials.

Shark Island, formerly the site of Shark Island Concentration Camp between 1905 and 1907 as part of the Herero and Namaqua genocide of 1904-1908. Photo: Johan Jönsson via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Tens of thousands of Herero and Nama tribe members died after being driven from their homes and into the Kalahari Desert and concentration camps by German troops, following a revolt against occupation. The €1.1 billion will go towards a variety of aid projects in Namibia, focussing on land and water supply infrastructure and professional training in particular, with €50 million reserved for cultural exchange programmes between the two nations.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said ‘Our aim was and is to find a joint path to genuine reconciliation in remembrance of the victims. 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.’ However, the government’s refusal to use the terminology of ‘reparations’ or even ‘compensation’ to describe the payment, in order to avoid setting a precedent for other countries to come forward seeking redress for historical crimes, seems to go against Mass’s statement. In the weeks surrounding the agreement, several groups and experts, including those representing descendants of the Namibian survivors of the conflicts, have been vocal in their criticism of how the agreement has been framed. Henning Melber, the former research director of the Africa Institute of Upsalla University, acknowledged that Germany’s act of recognition is symbolically important as the first Western government to do so in relation to colonial crimes. But he also called the payment ‘eine Beleidigung’ (insult), comparing the sum to the €7 billion spent on Brandenburg Airport, and highlights the outrage this has caused in Namibia. Read more here.

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