Germany did not fully recognise Namibia killings as genocide | View

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By Christian Kopp
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media during a statement at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, Friday, May 28
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media during a statement at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, Friday, May 28   -  Copyright  Tobias Schwarz/AP
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On 28 May, Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas went public and announced the conclusion of more than five years of negotiations between the governments of Germany and Namibia. 

The subject of these talks was the future handling of the extermination war against the Ovaherero and Nama people in 1904-08 in the then-colony of German South-West Africa. 

Maas used the term "genocide", again followed by the decisive addition "from today's perspective". 

Contrary to what the majority of global media reports suggest, there is no question of full recognition of the genocide in the legal sense and with consequences under international law.

Accordingly, the German government continues to stubbornly refuse to meet Namibian reparation demands. It does want to provide approximately €33 million in additional funds every year until 2051. However, it explicitly does not wish these payments to be understood as reparations, but as funds voluntarily raised for development cooperation.

No wonder, then, that there are many critical voices on the Namibian side against the so-called "reconciliation agreement" and that especially among the victim associations of the Ovaherero and Nama minorities many react indignantly. For them, Germany, which only wants to speak of a historical-moral obligation, is now once again refusing to fully live up to its responsibility for colonial crimes against humanity.

Almost more so, however, they feel betrayed by the Namibian government, which from the beginning did not want to allow any independent Ovaherero and Nama representation in the negotiations with Germany. Two important victim groups have therefore boycotted the process from the beginning. Now the financially strapped Namibian government has even fallen short of its promised negotiation goals of full recognition, apology and reparations. Accordingly, the opposition parties and even some of the Ovaherero and Nama royal houses involved in the negotiation process have distanced themselves from the government agreement too.

One thing is clear: the "reconciliation agreement" between the two governments, which has received worldwide attention, has not taken away but rather increased the frustration of the independent Ovaherero and Nama towards Germany. They have already announced the continuation of their struggle for full recognition of the crimes against their ancestors and for German reparation payments related to their losses of lives, land, cattle and liberty. So the German government will have to answer the German parliament what it has achieved in all these years. Once again reconciliation proves to be a matter that needs to be confirmed by both sides.

Christian Kopp is a historian and founder of the Berlin Postkolonial Association.