Genocide talks at loggerheads

By Dr Rukee Tjingaete

THE boat carrying the team negotiating genocide reparations that consists of a section of the affected communities and the two special envoys representing the German and Namibian governments is stuck in the middle of the sea because the priorities seem wrong.  They are dead-stuck on the issues of apology which in fact should not precede reparations.  An accepted apology in many cultures implies that the complaint is amicably dealt with and it is over and any other compensatory action beyond that matter constitutes a sign of goodwill and may not be compulsory.

The priority right now should be for Germany to acknowledge that it committed an act of genocide in Southwest Africa against the Nama and Herero/Mbanderu communities between 1904 and 1908 which then should be followed by reparations right away but not an apology first.

An apology is a gesture of reconciliation after the matter is resolved and should be the concluding issue on the menu of our negotiation team irrespective of who constitutes this team.  An admission of guilt should be enough to compel Germany to pay reparations.  This is why a court judgment irrespective of where it takes place would have been a better option to force Germany to pay reparations. This argument should be seen as an attempt towards developing a new approach to get the negotiations that have reached an impasse, back on track.

It does not help to deny that the ship has reached the phrase catch-22 of backward never and forward never in its attempt to reach the ultimate destination which is restorative justice through reparations for the genocide committed.

If a criminal breaks into a home, rapes someone and confiscates their properties, the victim would not get up the next day and demand that the criminal admits guilt, apologises and face punishment one way or the other. They would proceed immediately to seek justice in the form of a jail term, or settlement out of court that involves some form of restorative justice or direct payment to the state against the jail sentence passed by a competent court. In such a case the victim and villain are never compelled to reconcile through any form of apology.

Furthermore, the Namibian negotiators should be aware that communities are not holistic entities because they consist of people with different persuasions, traditions and beliefs. To assume that offspring of the affected communities would accept an apology for the brutal genocide that has impoverished them is a serious assumption. There are many Namibians within the affected communities who would rather prefer reparations and then remain indifferent to the so-called historical relationship between Germany and Namibia that in fact does not benefit them directly. 

It seems as if the reports that were submitted to government and the special envoy following a consultative process did not take this position seriously because of the enthusiasm and hype generated by the prospect of an apology and reparation that created false hope.  Germany has never been ready for admission of guilt, apology and reparation.  The negotiation boat is stuck between Europe and Africa and a new approach is needed.

In one of my previous article in a daily newspaper in 2017, I asked several questions and I repeat them today:

1) Who owns the negotiation process: Is it the Namibian President, Minister of Foreign Relations, government special envoy or the affected communities?

2) Are the two special envoys empowered to take binding decisions on behalf of their respective governments?

3) What is the precise role that representatives of the affected communities are playing in these negotiations?

4) Do the affected communities have the institutional capacity to receive reparations and apply them properly to alleviate the plight of their people judging from the current fragmentary state in which they find themselves?

5) Would this fragmentation not justify government to grab the bone and run with it?

I would conclude with the following:

The affected communities should mobilise local social movements such as trade unions, academics, feminist groups, students, media, churches, artists and lawyers beyond ethnic entities to render them support and solidarity and thereby force the Namibian government to help facilitate the negotiations in good faith.

They must seek support and solidarity among their fellow Namibians to help them embrace the Liverpool slogan that says: YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE

It is my personal view that President Hage Geingob wants this issue permanently resolved during his last term of office to leave behind a progressive historical legacy for Namibia.  This opportunity should be utilised because affected communities are not sure about who is the next president among so many SWAPO leaders who never sympathised with these affected communities; some of them simply because of tribal tendencies.

The last option should be to force the Namibian government to take the plight of its own people more seriously as a matter of moral obligation and take Germany to The Hague on behalf of the Nama and Herero/Mbanderu communities.  The so-called special relationship with Germany, a foreign government just because of the foreign donation (the ever–begging syndrome of Africa for European handouts known as donor support) that unfortunately disappears into the hands of corrupt top government officials and their cronies, is simply not enough to sacrifice the plight of fellow Namibian citizens whose livelihoods were robbed through genocide and confiscation of their property by a foreign imperial government.

Our negotiation with Germany must not compromise our pride and patriotism. Is it perhaps not time to re-configure and restructure our negotiation team and strengthen it with new ideas and a fresh mandate?

The genocide negotiation boat is stuck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  It is forward never and backward never. We need a new approach.