Allow me space for a riposte on the article that appeared in The Namibian (22 July 2021), captioned ‘Genocide deal not a complete flop’ by Dr Kaire Mbuende. Let us as a point of departure state that Dr Mbuende is not known to have been at the forefront of the Ovaherero and Nama demand for restorative justice. He seems to have suddenly fallen from out of the blue and into the deep end of the Ovaherero and Nama’s struggle for restorative justice.
It is probably so because the order that was issued by General Von Trotha was clearly directed towards the total elimination of the Ovaherero and Nama people only and him not being one of those who have been championing that issue over years like the late Dr Kuaima Riruako, for example, might have influenced him to opine that way.
It, is therefore, of no surprise that he asserts the Namibian negotiating team did their best to find the best deal for the country. Really? He further asserted that the negotiating team has managed to get the German authorities to recognise that they had committed genocide, and that they are ready to render a “genuine” apology – similarly that the Germans are ready to pay reparations.
Dr Mbuende would probably not have come to such a conclusion had he been aware of the position of the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Heiko Maas, who, after the negotiations were concluded, issued an official statement, stressing that the recognition of genocide did not imply any “legal claims for compensation”. Instead, the “substantial programme… for reconstruction and development” was declared as a “gesture of recognition” for the wrong-doings by Germany.
What is the implication of the aforementioned statement by the German foreign minister? My interpretation of the above statement is that it is not talking of paying reparation as an atonement for the genocide they committed against the Herero and Nama people but rather as a benevolent Samaritan pay for development projects to a poor developing African country.
The late Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange argued that “Financing of projects is a charity of the rich to help the poor as an act of generosity but reparation, which is money that is paid for damage and injuries caused by the offender to the victim”. In the same token, the draft agreement between Namibia and German is about reconciliation and reconstruction, and it speaks nothing about reparation. That agreement is inconsistent with the mandate given to the executive by National Assembly to negotiate reparations – period.
The “joint declaration” states that the Namibian government and people accept Germany’s apology and believe that it paves the way to a lasting mutual understanding and the consolidation of a special relationship between the two nations. Without broad consultations to legitimise the issue, the two governments declared what the Namibian people were supposed to accept as a closure.
In addition to the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, representatives of three Ovaherero Royal Authorities who were participating in the final round of negotiations indicated that they would not endorse the suggested draft agreement in that form and shape.
Therefore, as already suggested, the bilateral agreements between governments cannot replace reconciliation between the people of the two countries concerned. The descendants of the victims of the Namibian genocide are traceable – so also are the descendants of the perpetrators in the same way as the current State of Germany is a successor state of the German Imperial State; therefore, Germany must assume all obligations and responsibilities for the Ovaherero and Nama genocide and not relegate it to historical footnotes.
As the Namibian activist and author Jephta U Nguherimo has stated, before coming to Namibia, president Steinmeier should deliver his apology to the Bundestag for the German people to understand and learn about their untold genocide.
Reparations should have never been the exclusive bilateral dialogue between the two governments without the full and comprehensive inclusion of the Ovaherero and Nama communities. As Prof Joseph Diescho noted recently, “Nothing about us without us, period!”
The outcome of a flawed process cannot be praised as the best deal as Dr Mbuende wants us to believe. The process that gave birth to the agreement, as it is now known, is characterised by exclusion of the majority of descendants of the survivors of the genocide – both in Namibia and in the diaspora; lack of transparency and a comprehensive consultative process.
The content of the agreement lacks vital considerations, including generational justice, lost lives, loss of land, loss of cultural dignity, and other incalculable values and funds for the Namibian descendants of the genocide victims in the diaspora.
Germany is reluctant to call the genocides of 1904-1908 by its real name. We will now officially call these events what they are from today’s perspective: genocide. The fear of Germany opening the Pandora box for reparations should not deter Namibia from demanding what is due to the Ovaherero and Nama. Germany cannot use its fear of possible far-reaching legal/political obligations that it is now reluctant to use the term “genocide” and consequently refuse to accept the term “reparations” , and we expect us to fall in that trap as Dr Mbuende and his ilk seem to.
At least Dr Mbuende agrees that the 1.1 billion Euros ($1.34 billion) over the span of 30 years towards infrastructure projects and training programs is minuscule, given its resources and when compared to the damages caused by Germany on Namibian soil – and I fully agree with him. While agreeing that the money is inadequate and that Rome was not built in one day, he seems to suggest that 1.1 Euros may be the basis for working further on the amount.
What is interesting, an act of not valuing the lives and properties of the people they exterminated, the German government had on 21 July 2021 hurriedly approved a massive initial relief package of 400 million Euros. That is just an initial amount; certainly, more funds will be made available. However, they have guts and temerity to tell us that they will only pay 1.1 billion for the so-called development projects over a period of 30 years, which is not even a starting quantum in light of the magnitude of the losses suffered by the Ovaherero and Nama as the result of genocide.
Quo Vadis the genocide talks and the reparations issues? What needs to happen is to reopen a broad and an inclusive negations process, including all the affected communities through their various representatives and those in the diaspora, with the blessing of our government.