Germany rejects new negotiations over Namibia genocide
Berlin insists on implementing a controversial deal that recognizes the colonial-era genocide in Namibia. The plan draws strong criticism from politicians and some descendants of the victims, who demanded fresh talks.
Descendants of the victims of Germany’s genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples want recognition and compensation
The German government has not said much publicly in recent months about the reconciliation process between Germany and Namibia.
Six years ago, both governments entered into negotiations about a formal German apology for the colonial-era killings of tens of thousands of the Herero and Nama people in what was once Germany South-West Africa. Historians describe it as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Negotiators agreed on a draft agreement in May 2021, but neither government has yet signed. Right from the start, the document drew loud criticism from politicians and some descendants of the victims, who demanded fresh talks.
No fresh talks
However, the German government has now officially rejected these demands. “From the German government’s point of view, the negotiations for the joined declaration with Namibia have been finalized, even though talks about specific modalities of its implementation are continuing,” the government wrote in response to written questions submitted by Sevim Dagdelen, a Member of Germany’s federal parliament from the aocialist Left Party.
“It is a sign of arrogance that the German government simply ignores the massive criticism from Namibia’s parliament and the outrage of the descendants of the victims and leaves Namibia to deal with it,” Dagdelen told DW.
A number of Herero and Nama representatives are likely to agree. In December, they had requested a meeting with Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock to push for direct negotiations. They are angry that Germany is only ready to accept political, but not legal responsibility for the genocide.
They also criticize the €1.1 billion ($1.1 billion) rebuilding and development program that Germany is proposing to finance over 30 years. “That is development cooperation. This is about financing projects and infrastructure, which is ok. But this deal does not get to the heart of the matter, it is not about justice and reconciliation,” Nama activist Sima Luipert told German news magazine Der Spiegel in June this year.
Hereros and Namas are divided
Other community representatives, however, have rejected demands for fresh talks. “Protocol wise I don’t think that a foreign government can enter into negotiations leading to an agreement with the citizens of a foreign country. Hence, reopening of the negotiation on genocide … will not be accepted by our government, all OvaHerero, OvaMbanderu and Nama communities”, Ueriuka Tjikuua, a community representative who participated in the negotiations process, told DW.
Despite the controversy surrounding the draft agreement, the German government is already taking steps toward its implementation. This year’s federal budget includes €35 million for development projects and €4 million for a foundation that is supposed to keep the memory of the genocide alive. Both sums are part of the €1.1 billion package.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development told DW that the development projects would target the descendants of the victims. They cover areas such as land reform, agriculture, water, energy supply, and vocational training.
Development projects are underway
However, it is still unclear when the projects will be up and running. “These plans can only be implemented once the two foreign ministers have signed the joined declaration,” the spokeswoman said. The ministry did not provide specific information on the state of implementation but told DW that it was in constant dialogue with the Namibian government.
The Namibian government’s present position on the draft agreement is also unclear.
Angry Herero and Namas took the capital Windhoek after the negotiations were concluded in May last year. A parliamentary debate about the agreement in September 2021 was also accompanied by loud protests. The mood inside the chamber was equally emotional: Angry opposition members blasted the outcome of the negotiations, with even some MPs from the ruling SWAPO party voicing concern. So far, the government has not put the agreement to a vote in the national assembly.
“The fact that the government withdrew and also did not schedule another debate about it clearly shows how uneasy it feels, because it realized that it won’t be easy,” German-Namibian scholar Henning Melber told DW.
No vote in Germany’s parliament?
The German government, however, has tried to remain confident. “The Namibian government is sticking to the draft of the joined declaration even after the controversial debate in the Namibian national assembly,” it wrote in its response to the parliamentary questions by the Left Party.
Germany’s lower parliament, the Bundestag, does not plan to vote on the agreement at all.
“It is correct that the fully negotiated joined declaration is not an agreement under international law and does not require ratification by the German Bundestag,” the government wrote.
MP Dagdelen is not happy with this position. “Politically, it is more than appropriate that parliament deals with such a historic declaration, even if it is not necessary from a legal point of view,” she told DW.
However, whether German politicians get to vote on the agreement or not may be decided thousands of miles away. Namibia is scheduled to go to the polls in November 2024. Faced with declining popularity, the Namibian government is likely to avoid anything that could generate public anger in the run-up to elections. That could mean the joint declaration with Germany will have to wait.
Street Debate: The price of the genocide in Namibia
Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu
This aritcle was originally published in German.