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Germany to Pay Namibia $1.3 Billion as Part of Formal Recognition of Genocide After African Nation Rejected Initial $11.7M Offer

Germany has agreed to pay Namibia $1.3 billion as it formally recognizes the atrocities committed during the colonial-era genocide that claimed the lives of some 80,000 indigenous people more than a century ago in southwest African region.

The announcement comes months after Namibia rejected Germany’s $11.7 million compensation offer for the mass killings “not acceptable” last year.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday May 28, “in light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness.”

Maas also said that Germany will support Namibia and descendants of the victims of the genocide with over $1.3 billion for reconstruction and development. He added, “legal claims to compensation cannot be derived from this,” which reflects Germany’s stance that the Genocide Convention of 1948 can’t be applied retroactively, and therefore the liability is political and moral instead of legal.

“Our goal was and is to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims. This includes naming the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia, and in particular the atrocities in the period from 1904 to 1908, without sparing or glossing over them. We will now also officially call these events what they were from today’s perspective: a genocide,” Maas said.

Although the United Nations referenced the genocide in a 1985 report, Germany had not used that language to describe the atrocities before Friday.

Images of survivors of the Herero genocide foreshadowed similar scenes from the liberation of Nazi death camps. (Photo: SmithsonianMag.org)

During the colonial era between 1904 and 1908 the German empire killed as many as 80,000 Herero and Nama people in response to an anti-colonial resistance, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Other estimates put the number of African people killed at over 100,000.

Germany ruled modern-day Namibia, a colony called German Southwest Africa at the time, from 1884 to 1915 in order to provide territory for its people while urban areas were crowded amid a population boom. In response to anti-colonial uprising, German forces murdered at least 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people by means of sexual violence, starvation, forced labor, malnutrition, and medical experiments. It’s estimated that 80 percent of the indigenous Herero and Nama people were wiped out. To this day, much of the most valuable land in Namibia is owned by the descendants of German colonists.

Since 2015, Namibia and Germany have been negotiating the arrangement of an official apology and aid compensation from the European country. Germany also previously said it would not pay reparations directly to Namibia, claiming the money it has given the country in the form of development aid has displaced the need for official reparations. 

Namibian presidential Press Secretary Alfredo Hengari told CNN on Friday that the announcement represents a step towards healing.

“These are very positive developments in light of a very long process that has been accelerated over the past five years. People will never forget this genocide; they live with it. And this is an important process in terms of healing those wounds,” he said.

But Vekuii Rukoro, the paramount chief of Herero people, rejects the deal and says they weren’t part of the negotiations.

“Is this the kind of reparation that we are supposed to be excited about? This is just a public relations. This is a sellout job by the Namibian government. The government has betrayed the cause of my people,” he said.

The funds will stretch over a 30-year period and fund land reform, vocational training, water supply and rural infrastructure.

This month, French President Emmanuel Macron said France has a responsibility to recognize its role in the violence inflicted on the people of Rwanda.

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