Ovaherero and Nama genocide: A mockery of reconciliation and justice

• By Sima Luipert, Henning Melber, & Jephta Nguherimo

THE German-Namibian Joint Declaration regarding the genocide in the former South West African colony falls short. It neither acknowledges German guilt appropriately nor directly involves the descendants of the affected communities. The agreement reinforces power imbalances and does not promote true reconciliation.

In 2015, Germany half-heartedly acknowledged that genocide had been committed in the imperial colony of South West Africa between 1904 and 1908. However, it denied this admission of guilt had any legally valid consequences.

Since then, bilateral negotiations behind closed doors have taken place. On 21 May 2021, a joint declaration was initialled by the two special envoys. The coalition agreement of Germany’s new Federal Government was called a “reconciliation agreement.” This euphemism was withdrawn in response to an interpellation in the German parliament on 12 October 2022.

Due to protests by Namibian civil society and opposition parties, the declaration’s adoption has been shelved and not yet signed by the foreign ministers. On 27 October 2022, Namibia’s Vice-President, Nangolo Mbumba, who oversees the negotiations, stated that several points needed revision: the agreed amount of €1.1 billion, the full and unrestricted recognition of the genocide, the acknowledgement of reparations, and the inclusion of the descendants of the victim groups in the diaspora.

However, the main shortcoming must be addressed too. The main organisations of the descendants of the genocide-affected communities, the Ovaherero and Nama, but also the Damara and San, remained excluded from the talks.

On 9 November 2022, Germany’s Federal Government declared in parliament that there would be no new negotiations to amend the declaration. However, it was prepared to consider some grievances by means of an addendum. Results remain to be seen.

Since then, opponents of the deal have taken further steps. In January 2023, the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, the Nama Traditional Leaders Association, and the leader of the Landless People’s Movement (Namibia’s second-largest opposition party) filed a lawsuit with the Windhoek High Court. They claim that the negotiations violate the Namibian Constitution and a resolution adopted by parliament in 2006. The reason is that descendants of those directly affected were not involved in the negotiations.

Germany and Namibia violate rights

While the case is pending, their objections were supported by Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council in letters sent to both governments on 23 February 2023. Indeed, the negotiations violated the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in September 2007 with the votes of Germany and Namibia. It states that “indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters that would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves.”

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