The Editor of New Era (NE) newspaper, Chrispin Inambao, this week had an interview with the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Namibia, Onno Hückmann (OH) on issues related to German bilateral assistance to Namibia and on the thorny issue of reparations for Namibians whose ancestors suffered atrocities at the hands of German imperial troops during the 1904-1907 war.
NE: Your Excellency, what are your impressions on the diplomatic relations existing between Germany and Namibia that came into effect between our two countries in 1990?
OH: The German Government has played a key role in support of Namibia’s independence, which was achieved 24 years ago. Since then we have enjoyed an extremely close and fruitful partnership, which has been underpinned by a very successful development cooperation. We share Namibia’s vision to intensify our bilateral relations beyond development cooperation, especially in the fields of political dialogue, trade and investment, culture, education and science.
NE: In February 1998 I had the opportunity to meet the then president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr Roman Herzog, in Berlin and he stressed the fact Namibia enjoys a “special diplomatic relationship” with Germany. What has been the highpoint of this “special relationship?”
OH: Germany accepts its special historical, moral and political responsibility towards Namibia and all its citizens. The German Federal Parliament –The Bundestag – has asked in two important resolutions of April 1989 and June 2004, repeatedly for forgiveness and reconciliation. This responsibility has led to a special relationship between our two countries. It comprises a close bilateral cooperation in many areas, not least through our highest development cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
NE: Since 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany signed several bilateral relations with the Republic of Namibia. From your view how have these agreements benefited Namibia?
OH: Germany has been a strong supporter of an independent Republic of Namibia and has stood by its commitment. Since Namibia secured its independence in 1990, Germany has been its most important bilateral development partner. All our cooperation has been based on bilateral agreements. Our development cooperation is aligned with ‘Vision 2030’ and the corresponding National Development Plans. Germany supports Namibia mainly in three priority areas: natural resource management, sustainable economic development and transport.
Due to the major threat posed by the further spread of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention is a cross-cutting theme of our bilateral cooperation. In 2007, the Namibian-German Special Initiative was also launched in addition to bilateral development cooperation. These funds are earmarked for community development measures in areas inhabited by those groups that endured particular suffering under German colonial rule. If you look at the situation at independence and the situation today, I believe there have been many applaudable accomplishments and our common development cooperation has its merits in that process. Apart from development cooperation there are many cultural activities. Important examples of our bilateral cultural cooperation are the German Higher Private School and the Goethe Centre. The German Higher Private School remains one of the best schools in Namibia and an educational institute open to all Namibians. The Goethe Centre presents the rich German culture to Namibia. It facilitates intercultural exchange and understanding and provides a platform for acquiring knowledge of the German language, with 5 500 visitors and more than 800 students per year. There are numerous German volunteers working in community-based projects throughout the country. Our two governments work closely in international fora.
NE: In a nutshell, could you quantify the total financial assistance funnelled to Namibia by the Federal Republic of Germany since 1990?
OH: Official development assistance alone amounts to more than 800 million Euros (N$10.9 billion). Apart from that we support many international initiatives like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (GFAMT) or the various UN agencies. Plus, the biggest share of the EU support is funded by the German taxpayer. Germany is also an important donor of the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Apart from that there are many private initiatives from Germany cooperating here in Namibia. Let’s just say, Namibia is one of our most important development partners – also when it comes to the question of funds invested.
NE: What type of technical assistance – in the fields of personnel development – has the Federal Republic of Germany given to Namibia since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1990?
OH: Our cooperation always has the task of developing the capacities of individuals, organisations and societies in our partner countries, that means we want to help develop capacity within the country. German development policy is generally geared to the principle of subsidiary. Expatriate experts are only assigned to development projects if the experts required are not available in the partner country. Our instruments are numerous: German professors teach at Unam or the Polytechnic, and we offer scholarships to Namibian students to study in Germany. Ministries, associations and NGOs receive training, organisational support, etc. It is really at the core of our cooperation to facilitate capacity development and by so doing to strengthen domestic resources. Nonetheless, we also offer financing to invest in infrastructure. What makes us different from commercial banks is that with the financing (which is usually very preferential compared to commercial banks, including mainly grants) we offer technical support and – again – capacity development.
NE: We have moved from the era of confrontation characterized by Southern Africa from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. In your view is enough being done by both Namibia and Germany to increase trade taking into consideration the existing peace and emphasis on economic diplomacy?
OH: Namibian-German economic ties remain strong. Germany is one of the leading trading partners of Namibia within Europe. A bilateral trade volume of almost 272 million Euros (N$3.7 billion) in 2013 is already encouraging. The stock of German investment in Namibia currently stands at about 1 billion Euros. I see solid potential for more German investment in Namibia: Namibia’s key advantages as an investment destination are political stability, good economic governance, excellent transport infrastructure and well-functioning financial markets. I am prepared to partner with companies in both countries and the Namibian government to build on these strengths to attract more German investment.
NE: From your viewpoint, what are some of the challenges, the bottlenecks?
OH: I think the World Economic Forum’s latest global competitiveness index gives some indication of the strengths and challenges. The index identified health and education systems as two of the biggest problems in Namibia. Therefore, education and skills development are rightly considered as basic enablers for the development goals set in National Development Plan 4 (NDP4). Within the past years we intensified our involvement in the area of tertiary education and vocational training.
NE: On the issue of reparations, previously Germany described the actions of the imperial German colonial administration that nearly wiped out the OvaHerero, Nama and other tribes as unjustifiable and indeed a particularly dark chapter in our existing bilateral relations but Namibians affected by these atrocities want reparations.
What do you think is the best way forward on the issue of reparations?
OH: The remembrance of the gruesome colonial war of 1904-1908 and the commemoration of the Namibian victims leaves us feeling deep grief, sadness and regret. Representatives of various German governments have expressed this on numerous occasions and have asked the Namibian nation for forgiveness and reconciliation. What happened between 1904 and 1908 cannot be undone. But we have made our plea for forgiveness and accepted Germany’s historical, moral and political responsibility and have shouldered this special responsibility through very intense bilateral cooperation. We want to follow that route, want to intensify our close partnership at all levels and shape together with the Namibian people a common German-Namibian future. We stand ready to embark on that path.