Today, all of us, as Namibians, are realising that something drastic is missing after the negotiations on genocide, apology and reparations between the Republic of Namibia and the Federal Republic of Germany.
I am coming to this conclusion in light of the speech delivered by Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila on 8 June 2021 to the Namibian Parliament. Let me briefly elaborate. These are three key pillars that ought to be inextricably linked and cannot be considered separately. These three pillars are genocide, apology and reparations.
However, today, it seems the issue of reparations is considered on its own, instead of being linked to the other two.
A typical example is how Germany is treating the word ‘reparations’. They are using words such as “healing of wounds” or “monetary compensation for reconciliation and reconstruction programmes and projects”. On the other hand, Namibians are not willing to play word power politics or water-downed versions of historical facts.
Differently expressed, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust have received reparations from Germany, but when it comes to Africans, ‘reparations’ are avoided – even though it’s a moral and economic responsibility of Germany, who benefitted from Namibian natural resources to the extent of committing genocide. Differently expressed, now is the time to ask how to cut the Gordian knot.
To try untying an impossibly tangled knot by easily finding an answer on reparations with words such as “monetary compensation for reconciliation and reconstruction programmes and projects”, and thereby merely allowing the paying over of an amount of 1.1 billion euro (N$18 billion) over 30 years must be regarded as something below our intellectualism.
Furthermore, the N$18 billion is not a legally binding “reparation” payment but, in the words of a Namibian politician close to such negotiations, “the first step” in the right direction.
But it is not at all the first step in the right direction but the first step in the wrong direction.
In other words, the time has arrived today to cut the Gordian knot. Let’s take the case of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Germany has cut the Gordian knot by paying reparations per se for the Holocaust. So, this should be seen as a model for Namibian genocide negotiations, where all the stakeholders sit around the same fireplace or round table by negotiating while smoking the peace pipe and making sure to inhale. Let me, as a Namibian, throw down the gauntlet. First, there is only one truth on the issue of reparations – or as expressed by one of the famous German philosophers, Hegel, “Das Wahre ist das Ganze”. It means truth is from all sides the total truth. The usage of the word ‘reparations’ should not be avoided; otherwise, we are not telling the whole truth but a strange language of projects and programmes. Most insultingly, such projects and programmes are already decided by Germany, instead of Namibians themselves. Such power tactics raise the related question of apology and forgiveness.
I am always in affirmation with the approach of Chief Kuaima Riruako.
His approach is not to treat the words “apology and forgiveness” in a religious way but the context of economics and politics.
Therefore, he famously stated, “I am not here to refuse your apology and admission of guilt. There must now be dialogue to finish the unfinished business”. His response is in line with the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 verse 12: “Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors”.
Chief Kuaima Riruako’s response is to link genocide and apology to economic implications thereof. In short, “the unfinished business” is the obligation for payment of reparations upon which apology and forgiveness be accepted by all stakeholders. Differently expressed, at this stage, one cannot execute an apology and express forgiveness at the expense of reparations or “the unfinished business”. One is glad to note that the Namibian Vice President Nangolo Mbumba said the amount of 1.1 billion Euros (N$18 billion) is not enough and does not adequately address the quantum of reparations.
Instead, the Gordian knot has to be cut based on the following three steps: First, let the willing “giver” not release the offered money to the “receiver”. Let the money safely remain in the hands of the “giver” until a later stage.
Now, we are solely seeking amicable solutions to these three issues.
But simultaneously, let us build the second step by directly addressing the issue of the nature, status and value of human beings and human life.
To borrow from the Bible, the African descendants are crying for their ancestors – just like Rachel in Matthew 2 verse 18.
The Namibian children are experiencing and hearing “a voice heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be consoled because they are no more”. So, while Rachel cries, what shall we do? The tears of our African ancestors necessitate that all the stakeholders sit in a round hut around the fireplace or sit around a round table in a four-wall house and talk on the three interlocked, interconnected and interlinked pillars: genocide, apology and reparations with one single purpose. Not to follow political tactics of divide and rule, and not to be influenced by such political manoeuvre but that Africans learn to stick together; be glued together in the spirit of Ubuntu, unity, solidarity, freedom and social justice. Let’s build bridges so that never again nations are implicated in crimes against humanity after genocide and Auschwitz.
Let our negotiation strategy be from the position of representation of those in the valley or belly of the beast of poverty and landlessness.
Let’s look deep into the pit of the hell of genocide, and let us negotiate bravely while influenced by our ancestors, whose blood waters our freedom to borrow from our national anthem. In other words, let us value the life of Namibian men, women and children who were driven to the deserts and many died from malnutrition, exhaustion, and disease.
Survivors who were placed in concentration camps like Shark Island and such prisoners of war looked like “a broomstick” and were so thin that “one could see through their bones”.
Second, the value of human life has to be measured against the economic power of the European powerhouse in terms of economics – nothing more or less. In short, while not taking any single penny or cent, all Namibian participants must hold on to their experience acquired during the struggles against German colonialism and the white South African apartheid regime to chart the way forward concerning all aspects to honour the valuable human life of our ancestors.
Finally, this is the only fine balance to be achieved by cutting the Gordian knot and smoking the peace pipe while inhaling to secure the outcomes on genocide, apology and reparations.
Let these three pillars remain costly.
In short, honouring the value of human life, human dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms or bill of rights are always costly and never cheap – religiously, socially, humanely, politically and especially economically.
Thus, reparations, apology and genocide should not be treated cheaply but as absolute principles resulting in costliness to the satisfaction first and all of those who have been historically oppressed, exploited and killed.