The most emotive and sensitive issues in Namibia are the genocide of 1904-1908 and reparations. This week, President Hage Geingob rejected a monetary offer by Germany as ‘reparations’ for genocide. Colonial Germany specifically targeted and killed tens of thousands of people. They stole everything these people owned. They engaged in a vicious military action that permanently drove thousands out of the country of their birth. Deutsche Welle (DW) announced the proposed amount was 10 million euros. Geingob declared the amount, “insulting.” But inside Namibia this issue runs deep.
Communities of people directly affected by the genocide are not a part of the negotiations process. They have no stake in outcomes of ongoing negotiations with the Germans.
Many have stated that 70 percent of the affected communities are not buying the negotiations between the German and Namibian governments. They believe the negotiations are meaningless. They say, “It can’t be about them, without them.”
As far as they are concerned, the process for reparations has not started yet. Affected communities have stated that whatever is decided by the two governments regarding the genocide, has no impact on their demands for restorative justice from Germany.
Namibia appointed long-serving Ambassador Dr Zed Ngavirue (now 87 years old) as its special envoy. Ngavirue and his delegation, which includes the Ovambanderu and Nama Council for Dialogue 1904 (ONCD 1904), have been negotiating for nearly three years.
Representatives of the affected communities not on the government commission, have a strong position. They believe that negotiations without their inclusion are irrelevant. Their position cannot be ignored by the Administration.
Comparisons could be made to the 1985 Transitional Government of National Unity (TGNU) installed in Namibia by the white supremacist South African Administrator-General. Its legislative and executive actions were subject to South African approval and it was a powerless body. This co-opted process back then was soundly rejected.
Questions are raised about whether the negotiating committee striking a deal with the Germans is not a similar politically co-opted effort. This is the Achilles heel of government’s negotiation efforts.
The government is trying to bulldoze the entire process. The rejection by Geingob is apparently based on the amount of funds offered and the insistence to use the word ‘reparations’ (something the Germans reject).
If Germany wants to come to Namibia and apologize to the Parliament, or Geingob, or Nujoma or Pohamba, that is fine. But, victims of the genocide and colonial German atrocities think differently.
Geingob’s rejection of the amount offered by Germany may be a function of his need for a monetary solution sufficient to finance unfunded capital projects in the identified regions. There are concerns if this is a component of his commitment to restorative justice.
There are complaints that the government does not specifically mention the Herero and Nama people who were the victims of the genocide. They only speak in terms of ‘Namibians’ as victims of the German genocide. It is believed that this is because they want to avoid a certain narrative. They want to sidestep the historical reality of the targeted groups of people who were the German victims of genocide. Government wishes to keep the victims vague to keep the beneficiaries of the reparations vague.
Those standing in opposition to the government’s efforts say that government can sign whatever it likes with the Germans. But, that will not stop their demands for reparations and restorative justice.
They reject that the negotiations do not include in people in the Herero, Nama and San diaspora who were forced to flee to Botswana, South Africa or other areas. They are also affected communities.
There are concerns raised about accepting German financing of ‘projects’. Where is the list of these projects, their outputs, and costs? How can this be a negotiation point when it is so vague? Those not included in the negotiations have no stake in any discussion about ‘projects.’
The president’s request for Namibians not to protest against Germany when an agreement is made may fall flat. Different leaders from affected communities are already calling for separate efforts to demand reparations from Germany.
The controversy surrounding the most sensitive and emotive issue in Namibia, the genocide of 1904-1908, will not cease regardless of what comes from the German/Namibian negotiations.