German NGO Alliance keeps genocide torch burning

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Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the end of German colonialism in Namibia, which formally ended on 9 July 1915.

This week a number of German non-governmental organisations, spearheaded by Berlin-Postkolonial, handed a petition to the authorities of the Federal Government of the Republic of Germany, the Bundestag (German Parliament), the German President Klaus Gauck and the Foreign Office of German Federal Government.

The petition is a culmination of months of campaigning aimed at raising awareness and solidarity within civil society in Germany. It is supported by eminent persons, including members of parliament, and calls on germany to deal with the unresolved and bitter history of German colonialism in Namibia.

The handover was preceded by a series of build-up activities and appeals, which created some momentum within German civil society since the beginning of 2015.

The campaign started in March with a petition entitled “No Amnesty on Genocide: Hereros and Namas Genocide Reparation from Germany”. It was in fact initiated by the Ovaherero in the Diaspora and descendants of the survivors of the 1904 war.

The petition was received by Ambassador George Schmidt, Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel in the Foreign Office. Schmidt took over from Ambassador Walter Lindner recently and visited Namibia earlier this year.

In April an MP of the centre-left party, Die Linke, who was in Namibia in 2013, demanded that the German government and the highest political office, not only recognise the Armenian genocide, but that of Namibia too.

In May more German parliamentarians, notably Heidemarie Wiezcorek-Zeul, former Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, known to Namibia for her presumed apology in 2004 during the centenary commemoration of the 1904 genocide at Okakarara near Ohamakari, called for the official recognition of Germany’s genocide in Namibia.

Also in May the first black MP of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Bundestag, Dr Karamba Diaby, also called for an official apology from the German government for the 1904 genocide.

The petition urges the German parliament and government:
– to officially recognise the genocide against the OvaHerero and Nama – an action which is long overdue;
– to formally ask the descendants of the victims of genocide for forgiveness;
– to commit to identifying and returning all of the human remains deported from Namibia and other German colonies to Germany;
– to declare Germany’s unconditional willingness to participate in an open dialogue with the descendants of the victims, as well as with the Namibian government concerning measures which can be taken to achieve reconciliation,” reads the petition.

One cannot but welcome this great act of solidarity by German civil society. It has been keeping the torch of reparations for victims of genocide burning. But the question is whether these solidarity groups can be expected to keep the torch ever burning without commensurate vigour and visibility on the home front.

Those from the affected communities, who have been championing the demand for reparation on the home front, let alone the Namibian government, seem to have become ominously and disturbingly silent of late.

If anything has been happening, then it must have been happening behind closed doors. As far as the Namibian government is concerned dispatches from Germany, and from the Bundestag of late, point to ongoing talks regarding the issue.

In a nutshell, unless one is really privileged with what seems to be privy information as far as the campaign for genocide and reparation is concerned, one cannot but conclude that not much has been happening on the home front lately.

As far as the genocide committees are concerned, they seem at best to have become moribund, and at worse in a state of paralysis.

The apparent talks between the two foreign ministries seems to be stuck in the sluggish, overcautious, detached and dilly-dallying diplomatic tapestry. Thus in the wake of the apparent paralysis, endless and meaningless diplomatic intrigues, one cannot but thank the German NGOs Alliance for keeping the torch burning.

For how long can they realistically be expected to keep the banner flying and the torch burning in the absence of tangible and visible efforts on the home front to instil in them the necessary will and hope? Without efforts to address the issue at home head-on, it is unthinkable.

Especially now that the petitioners, in the presence of Namibian leaders have been given the cold shoulder in Berlin, we will be compelled to rethink our approach and strategy to resolve this long-standing problem.

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