On German-Namibian negotiations

05 May 2021 | Opinion


The Namibian genocide and reparations issue is not drastically different from that of the Jewish people because it is about negotiations with the same German government on the same issues. It is about finding effective strategies to use to achieve positive outcomes instead of wasting five years in inconclusive negotiations without tangible results as Prime Minister Saara Kuukongelwa-Amadhila’s statement in Parliament shows.

In the case of the Jewish leaders, as soon as the German leaders at the Wassenaar negotiations began to play with words and tried to offer unrealistic and insignificant - actually ridiculously low - amounts of money for the genocide that they committed against the Jewish people, the negotiations reached an impasse.

Also, it became clear that the German negotiators did not have authority to make any binding decisions, but used the meetings merely to gather information on the position of the Jewish leaders on the issues.

Then, the Israeli leaders, along with their Claims Conference colleagues, broke off the negotiations.

They realised that they could not proceed until the German negotiators came with a concrete proposal from their government on the key issues to be discussed and agreed upon.

Then, Dr Nahum Goldmann, who initially did not directly participate in the delegation, was available to intervene and provide assistance. He renegotiated with for an agreement on new reparations negotiations. During this time, Goldmann secretly met some of the German leaders such as Konrad Adenauer himself and the leader of his delegation Franz Boehm as a way to jump-start the second round of negotiations.

At the meeting with Adenauer, Goldmann told the German Chancellor to come to the negotiations with a concrete proposal, and that the Jewish leaders would not return to the negotiations without one.

Adenauer promised Goldmann that the concrete proposal would be made available as soon as possible, but that was not forthcoming for some time.

Significant amounts

Goldmann explained to the German leaders that the second round was going to be a serious endeavour to agree on what was supposed to be agreed on, namely the need for Germany to agree to pay significant amounts of reparations - in billions - for the Jewish people Nazi Germany exterminated and their loss of property during the holocaust.

He informed the German leaders that nothing short of billions was going to be accepted because the leaders of Israel and the Jewish organisations he represented already received death threats and strong opposition from conservatives in Israel and elsewhere who were opposed to negotiations on what they viewed as German ‘blood money’ for the genocide.

They succeeded in getting the negotiations on track, and the second round took place at Wassenaar from 22 June to 22 August 1952.

Unlike the Namibian-German negotiations that has taken five years, the Jewish leaders spent only nine months in negotiations and completed the signing of the agreements in September 1952 in Luxembourg.

In the end, the Jewish leaders succeeded in reaching a final reparations agreement for Germany to pay reparations to Israel and the Claims Conference involving two protocols: Under Protocol Number 1, Germany agreed to pay the sum of three billion Deutsche Mark to purchase commodities and services for the rehabilitation and resettlement of Nazi victims in Israel.

Under Protocol Number 2, they agreed to a global payment of 450 million Deutsche Mark for the Claims Conference. This protocol’s funds were to be used for aid, rehabilitation and resettlement of Nazi victims living outside Israel.

Applying strategies

All this does not mean that there were no difficulties encountered during the negotiations. It means that, unlike the Swapo negotiators, the Jewish leaders developed and applied strategies to reach their goals. They also used other tactics such as first securing a public apology and expression of strong commitment and dedication to pay reparations as a way to show remorse and atone for the crime of the Nazi genocide.

Most importantly, throughout the negotiations, the Jewish leaders maintained unity among members of their organisations and the state of Israel. They were skilful, experienced and knowledgeable individuals about the German history of negotiations on genocide and reparations.

Last but not least, the Jewish leaders relied on their strategy of keeping the German negotiators on the task at hand that denied them the opportunity to avoid agreement on key issues and engage in endless game-playing without agreeing to anything.

Relevant international precedent

Suffice it to say that I did not include a discussion about the Jewish-German negotiations for the sake of doing so, but because of the relevant international precedent that was established in that case. The precedent involved includes key elements of success that overall have been ignored by Swapo leaders.

At the conclusion of the of the Jewish-German reparations, many Jewish authors and leaders reflected on the main accomplishments of the Jewish negotiators and the historical precedents they achieved in reaching their goal.

The key elements include:

1) For the first time, a state paid reparations to those who suffered at the hands of its predecessor through mainly organising skills, knowledge of history, and application of moral pressure.

2) As requested by Goldmann, Adenauer made a public statement in the Bundestag that Germany accepted the responsibility for Nazi crimes and committed itself to pay reparations. There was no coercion on the part of the super powers like the United States or an element of force on the part of any conqueror of Germany.

3) In his public statement, Adenauer stated the need to commit Germany to reparation payments. He also indicated that the negotiations would involve both Israel and the Jewish international organisations.

4) Under the leadership of Adenauer, Germany paid reparations to German genocide victims, not to its conqueror in a war, but genocide reparations to a state (Israel) and a non-state organisation of the Jewish Claims Conference. Then, the final reparations agreements were signed by the Adenauer, the state of Israel, and the representative of the Claims Conference having no sovereignty and legal status in international law qualifying it to sign such agreements.

6) Unlike Swapo leaders who have excluded members of the affected Nama and Ovaherero communities - from within Namibia and the diaspora - from the negotiations, the Jewish leaders worked as a unified team and included them in the negotiations. The two Jewish groups presented that unity to Germany and the rest of the world throughout the difficult reparations negotiations that were, at times, controversial and involving death threats and an attempted assassination of Adenauer.

7) Last but not least, Goldmann played a crucial role in securing German reparations, and was a non-state leader of Jewish international organisations of the Claims Conference. In private and public, Goldmann was the one who negotiated with Adenauer and his key government negotiators and got the negotiations going and on track.


To conclude, let me quote from an outstanding comment on this issue by Bob Kandetu to the German ambassador to Namibia, Christian Matthias Schlaga, when he said the following: “Let me assure you, Your Excellency, that the future will not be what it has been all along”.

I not only agree with Kandetu, but I would also suggest that his comment applies to both the German and Namibian officials about the issue of genocide and reparations.

The genocide and reparations issue for the affected Nama and Ovaherero people is not going to be what it has been up to now. Therefore, whatever the degree to which the Namibian and German governments try to be secretive in handling this issue, the truth will always come to light.

Kuukongelwa-Amadhila’s parliamentary statement at least made the first truth clear to us that the Swapo government leaders and negotiators are incapable of engaging competently in high-level negotiations with their German counterparts. This is the reason why they essentially returned to Parliament empty-handed after five useless years in inconclusive negotiations.

The statement also says little about the sums of money Germany is willing to pay and specifically whether this is for genocide reparations or atrocities and development projects, as the German officials have insisted all these years, even while the so-called confidential reparations negotiations were in progress.

As we have insisted all these years, sooner or later, the whole truth will be known about the positions the Swapo negotiators took in the negotiations on the main ‘pillars’ of apology, genocide and reparations that we are not told in detail in the statement.

In the meantime, I am afraid that with these low-level negotiation skills, confusion, contradictions, lack of German history of negotiations on these issues, and the general incompetence of the Swapo leaders and their negotiators on the issue, as president of Namibia, Hage Geingob will come to the end of his second term having failed miserably to obtain reparations from the German government.

Part two of this opinion piece was published on 3 May. This is the final instalment.

Dr Freddy Omo Kustaa is a retired professor, historian and political scientist living in St Paul, Minnesota, USA. His areas of study and research are comparative history and politics of the United States and Southern Africa, with a specific emphasis on the colonial history of South Africa and Namibia.