Germany is increasingly becoming a pariah state, at least from an African vantage point, over the manner in which it has handled discussions on the 1904-08 Ovaherero and Nama genocide.
This is according to German member of parliament Sevim Dağdelen of the Left Party, who was reacting to remarks by seven United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs on the colonial dialogue with Namibia.
The outspoken Dağdelen is also the Left Party group coordinator on the foreign affairs committee. According to Dağdelen, who last visited Namibia in November last year, the German Federal Government has evidently failed to react to the remarks.
Two weeks ago, UN special rapporteurs criticised both Namibia and Germany for violating the rights of Ovaherero and Nama ethnic minorities by excluding them from talks over reparations for colonial crimes against their forebears.
Publishing their communication with both governments, the UN representatives called on Germany to take full responsibility for all its colonial crimes in Namibia – including mass murder.
The UN also said it was wrong for Ovaherero and Nama communities to have been involved indirectly in negotiations through an advisory committee.
They also called on Germany to pay reparations directly to Ovaherero and Nama as opposed to the Namibian government.
Without mincing words, Dağdelen accused the federal government of a failure to act.
“Neither the criticism from Namibia nor that from the UN is listened to, possible negotiations on reparations payments are still being rejected out of hand,” the politician said in a missive seen New Era.
As a consequence, she said, more African countries are distancing themselves from Germany. “In view of this refusal to engage, it should be no surprise that more and more African states are distancing themselves from Germany and that its representatives, even up to the level of the Federal Chancellor, are now only being received in a cool and distanced manner,” she asserted.
At the end of May 2021, Germany and Namibia reached an agreement in principle on a joint declaration in which the events are described as genocide “from today’s perspective”. In line with the agreement, 1.1 billion euros or N$18 billion are to be spent on reconstruction and development projects in Namibia over the next 30 years.
This deal has been largely rejected by the affected communities, opposition parties in the Namibian parliament and traditional leaders.
She continued: “In addition, the UN rapporteurs criticised the ‘Joint Declaration’ for the lack of effective reparative measures. They state that the declaration establishes a ‘reconstruction and development support programme’ and that this response ‘is inconsistent with the scope of the harm inflicted to victims’”.
What is more, the special rapporteurs were mainly concerned with violations of international law. They were nominated by the UN Human Rights Council as independent experts, but are not remunerated by the UN for their work. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, although experts do not have the powers to compel governments to take action, their reports serve to send a signal.
According to the reports, Namibia and Germany received a letter from the Special Rapporteurs in February, with a deadline of two months to answer.
On 12 April, the German government apparently asked for this deadline to be extended until 8 May.
In its response, the Federal Government states that it is for the Namibian government to organise participation in the negotiating process by all the groups affected and claims that to its knowledge, this has taken place in a comprehensive fashion, “including in October 2022, when over 250 Nama, Herero, Damara and San chiefs met in the Chiefs’ Forum at the invitation of the Namibian Vice President, and the great majority of them expressed support for the continuation of negotiations with Germany.”
However, Dağdelen points out that, according to a study by the Bundestag’s Research Services, negotiations with OvaHerero and Nama representatives in consultation with the Namibian government would, in fact, be possible.
When Dağdelen visited Namibia last year, she rhetorically stated that if Germany atones for the genocide committed on Namibian soil and pays just reparations, it could set a precedent that will push the global powerhouse into paying for all its colonial crimes.
This fear, Dağdelen said at the time, was why Germany is reluctant to accept, in no uncertain terms, that it committed genocide and must pay commensurate reparations.
She said Germany committed war crimes, even against Chinese people, that it is yet to atone for, let alone pay reparations.
“We have [committed] colonial crimes in China. We never said ‘sorry’. We didn’t pay back. We didn’t send back their things [artefacts],” she said at the time.
The European powerhouse had a colony in China in the late 1800s until 1915.
Dağdelen said this while delivering a public lecture at the University of Namibia.
She also advised Namibia to formulate a united strategy and speak with a common voice in the genocide matter, or forget Germany ever taking them seriously in the marathon talks.
The public lecture was held under the theme ‘Colonial Past–Neo-colonial Present? International Relations in the Light of War, Sanctions and International Law’.
“Don’t allow yourselves to be divided by the German government… go back to the drawing board because people [Namibians] are speaking with many voices,” she added.
She also rejected the N$18.1 billion genocide grant that the German government has extended to Namibia, to be paid over 30 years.
“1.1 billion Euros over 30 years is not appropriate…[only] true reparations can bring true reconciliation,” she stated.
The German legislator, however, could not say how much in monetary terms is just reparations for genocide.
That, she said, is up to Namibians to decide and to stick to their demands without shaking.
The 47-year-old has been unequivocal in her call for Germany to account for its colonial crimes.
According to her, the German government used its position of economic and political power to suppress its Namibian counterpart.
Dağdelen has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2005 and has been advocating for the recognition of German colonial crimes and the decolonisation of German foreign policy.
She also lamented the fact that the 1904-1908 genocide which colonial Germany meted out against the Nama and Ovaherero communities is not taught in German schools, nor is it part of their curriculum.
During her presentation, Dağdelen was also baffled by the extent to which the disputed joint declaration between Germany and Namibia was elevated here, as it reached parliament.
Since her visit, the Namibian government has been waiting for Germany’s response to their July 2022 letter to relook the widely rejected tentative genocide agreement.
The talks have seemingly hit a stalemate.
As things stand, Germany has only proffered 1.1 billion euros (N$18 billion) for developmental projects in seven identified regions as reparations for genocide.
This is while Namibia’s N$1.1 trillion demand takes into account loss of life, dispossession of land and displacement, amongst others.
“Hopefully, we will reach a figure which Germany is ready to give, and which Namibia is ready to accept,” Vice President Nangolo Mbumba, who spearheads genocide talks on behalf of government, said last year.