Hush Money Instead of Reparations

Ovaherero and Nama protest the "reconciliation agreement" between Germany and Namibia: reparations for the genocide not intended.

BERLIN/WINDHOEK (Own report) - The legitimate representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama are raising strong protest against an alleged "reconciliation agreement" between Berlin and Windhoek, regarding the genocide perpetrated against their ancestors. According to reports, the agreement provides for Germany recognizing the genocide as such for the first time - however, only "historically and politically," explicitly excluding legal consequences. This irritating distinction would mean that Germany can refuse reparations, while saving face. Should Windhoek agree, Berlin would simply promise to raise the funds for development aid, thus terminating reparation demands once and for all. Ovaherero, as well as Nama, are not inclined to simply accept the deal, which will also need the Namibian president's official approval. This is a "public relations coup by Germany and an act of betrayal by the Namibian government," they declared, explicitly calling on the United Nations to reject the German "gimmick."

German Mass Crimes

Already in the 1990s, soon after Namibia won its independence, Ovaherero and Nama launched their struggle for recognition of the genocide carried out on their ancestors and for compensation by Germany. From the outset, both were strictly rejected by the German government. Recognizing the mass crime, would entail costly reparation payments and thus raise the question of whether Germany would also have to pay reparations for other mass crimes, such as during the Maji Maji War in today's Tanzania with at least 180,000 victims,[1] or the German annihilation expeditions in Eastern and Southeastern Europe during World War II.[2] To parry these demands, the German government resorts to unusual arguments and tricks, for example, to claim that the 1948 Genocide Convention cannot be applied retroactively and that the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land did not apply to the Ovaherero and Nama, who - subjugated to German colonial rule - were not subjects of international law.[3] In 2004, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development at the time, sought to dispel the Ovaherero and Nama's reparations demands by asking for forgiveness "in the words of the Lord's Prayer that we share": Religious confessions do not entail legal consequences.[4]

Trials and Negotiations

At present, the dispute is being waged at two levels. The legitimate organizations of the Ovaherero and Nama are seeking to have their demands heard by the US judiciary. In March 2019, a New York court had dismissed their complaint on the grounds that Germany enjoys "sovereign immunity" in this case.[5] Previously, Berlin hat tried to evade the trial, using various tricks, such as refusing receipt of subpoenas to court proceedings. ( reported.[6]) Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) Paramount Chief, Vekuii Rukoro, recently confirmed that his organization had filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court on April 16, 2021.[7] Since 2015, the German government has been negotiating with the Namibian government to find a solution to the conflict - albeit by excluding the legitimate representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama. They do not accept that, as direct descendants of the victims, they are being ignored by Berlin and last August protested openly: Rukoro and Johannes Isaack, the Chairman of the Nama Traditional Leaders' Association (NTLA), rejected an offer from Berlin.[8] The German government sought to pay a ludicrous €10 million, explicitly not being declared as reparations.[9]

Genocide without Consequences

Since late last week, German media have been reporting that an agreement has been reached between Windhoek and Berlin in the compensation dispute. According to the reports, Berlin is ready to acknowledge the classification of genocide carried out on the Ovaherero and Nama as such, but apparently - this idea has been in circulation for several years - merely in the "historical-political" sense of the term. Therefore, Berlin attaches great importance to Namibia's government officially confirming that Berlin's recognition of genocide will not be legally binding in terms of international law, from which compensation claims may be raised.[10] It is reported that, against this backdrop, Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will officially ask forgiveness - an inconsequential, cheap gesture, which will not meet the reparations claims, but rather silence them once and for all. According to the reports, Berlin is prepared to pay Windhoek an undisclosed amount - as "reconciliation and reconstruction aid," to be used for development policy objectives - for education, infrastructure and in the health sector. If one considers that with this gesture, Windhoek is being urged to renounce all reparations demands, this would constitute a sort of hush money.

"A Public Relations Coup by Germany"

The representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama have sharply protested Berlin's request. According to a joint statement issued yesterday by the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and the Nama Traditional Leaders' Association (NTLA), the agreement reached between Berlin and Windhoek "is a public relations coup by Germany and an act of betrayal by the Namibian government,” that has allowed itself to be bamboozled by the German government.[11] The OTA and the NTLA continue to insist that Germany correctly admit to genocide in accordance with international law and pay reparations. Mere “compensation” to finance “social projects” is nothing but a cover-up for the usual funding of development projects. Both organizations reiterate that they "reject the initial reconciliation agreement negotiated without the participation of the legitimate representatives of the majority of the victim communities with the contempt it deserves." "We urge the United Nations, the African Union and the rest of the international community to reject this gimmick by Germany and Namibia," and they also call upon the United Nations to recognize "the 1904 to 1908 massacre by Germany as genocide."

The AfD as Whip

The German-Namibian "Reconciliation Agreement" must be confirmed by the relevant official authorities. On the Namibian side, this includes President Hage Geingob. Back in August 2020, Geingob had curtly rejected the agreement with Berlin that had not included reparations, after the OTA and the NTLA had resolutely protested against it, using similar arguments. However, statements made by the Namibian negotiating delegation give the impression that Windhoek sees itself placed in a position by Berlin, wherein it either accepts the crumbs, or leaves the table empty handed. During negotiations in Berlin, Namibia's special envoy on the genocide negotiations Zed Ngavirue, got the impression that the situation following Germany's parliamentary elections in September is uncertain. The AfD is on the rise, and if it is successful, the German government may have to back down from the current agreement with Windhoek.[12] In this debate, Germany's right-wing extremists serve as the whip, that can tame Berlin's Namibian negotiating partners.


[1] See also Milestones of German Memory.

[2] See also A Bag of Tricks to Avoid Paying Reparations.

[3] See also Der Genozid, der nichts kostet.

[4] Wieczorek-Zeul bittet um Vergebung. 14.08.2004.

[5] Felicia Jaspert: Setback for the descendants of the Nama and Ovaherero indigenous peoples. 08.05.2019.

[6] See also Germany's Colonial Arrogance.

[7] Kandjemuni Kamuiiri: Genocide reparations case cost millions. 08.05.2021.

[8] Entschuldigung nicht akzeptiert. Allgemeine Zeitung Namibia 06.08.2020.

[9] Dominic Johnson: Zeit für angemessene Reparationen. 12.08.2020.

[10] Aussöhnung mit Namibia. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 17.05.2021.

[11] Charmaine Ngatjiheue: Ngavirue confirms 'fruitful' genocide talks. 17.05.2021.

[12] Charmaine Ngatjiheue, Shelleygan Petersen: German elections could derail genocide talks. 14.04.2021.