Germany admits to committing genocide as the colonial power in what is now Namibia

Berlin — More than 100 years after the crimes were committed, Germany formally confessed on Friday to having committed genocide as the colonial power in what is now Namibia. After years of negotiations, the German government recognized the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama ethnic groups as genocide and said reparations would be paid.

"As a gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering inflicted on the victims, we want to support Namibia and the descendants of the victims with a substantial program of 1.1 billion euros (about $1.3 billion) for reconstruction and development," said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Germany also said it would officially seek forgiveness for the crimes.

Herero people taken captive after a rebellion by German colonial powers in what is now Namibia are seen chained in a photo from 1904 or 1905. ullstein bild via Getty

Earlier, delegations from both countries reached an agreement on a joint political declaration after nearly six years of negotiations. The German Empire was the colonial power in what is now Namibia from 1884 until 1915, and it brutally quashed repeated rebellions during that time.

Historians believe that German forces in what was then known as German Southwest Africa killed about 65,000 of the 80,000-strong Herero population, and at least half of the 20,000 Nama in the region.

The official request for forgiveness was reportedly to be made by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a ceremony in the Namibian parliament.

The 1.1 billion euros are to be paid over a period of 30 years, primarily to support projects in the areas where most ethnic Herero and Nama people have settled. The projects will focus on land reform, agriculture, rural infrastructure, water supply and vocational training.

The German government emphasized, however, that its recognition of the genocide and the establishment of the aid fund do not stem from any legal claims for compensation, but rather a political and moral obligation.

A memorial to the genocide of the Herero and Nama (1904-1907) committed by German colonial troops, is seen in the center of the Namibian capital, Windhoek, June 4, 2019. Jürgen Bätz/picture alliance via Getty

"I am pleased and grateful that we have succeeded in reaching an agreement with Namibia on how to deal jointly with the darkest chapter of our common history," said Maas. "Our goal was and is to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims."

Maas stressed that Germany wasn't trying to draw a line under the country's past misdeeds to move on.

"Acknowledging the guilt and our request for an apology is, however, an important step in coming to terms with the crimes and shaping the future together," he said. The negotiations were conducted by officials from the two governments, but Herero and Nama representatives were closely involved.

Namibia's government welcomed Germany's recognition of its crimes. President Hage Geingob's spokesman Alfredo Hengari told the French news agency AFP that it was "the first step in the right direction."

Skulls of Herero and Nama people are displayed during a devotion attended by representatives of the tribes from Namibia, in Berlin, Germany, September 29, 2011. Michael Sohn/AP

Some members of the political opposition in Namibia, however, criticized the agreement. A representative of the south African nation's biggest opposition party, the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), called it an "insult" to Namibia.

Germany's representatives had "not negotiated in good faith," the daily newspaper The Namibian quoted parliamentarian Inna Hengari as saying.

"If Namibia receives money from Germany, it should go to the traditional leaders of the affected communities instead of to the government," said a representative of the Landless People's Movement (LPM) party.

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Opposition leader Mike Kavekotora of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) also accused President Geingob's government of "excluding" the Nama and Herero in the process, saying: "I don't think this is the best that Namibia's government could have gotten from Germany." 

Some parliamentarians called on the various opposition parties to unite and unanimously reject the deal between the two countries. They continue to argue for direct reparations to the descendants of genocide victims.

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