On German-Namibian negotiations
03 May 2021 | Opinion
In her parliamentary statement on the German-Namibian genocide negotiations, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila tells us that the Namibian position in the negotiations with German officials is that Germany “should render an unconditional apology and pay reparations”.
But how can this be possible when it is also stated that Namibia is negotiating for “alternative terms” to reparations?
What will Germany apologise for having done wrong to the Nama and Ovaherero people? Will Germany be required to apologise for having inflicted wounds on the Nama and Ovaherero that need to be healed and that cannot be considered to be genocide?
How can Germany render an unconditional apology, delivered at the so-called highest level to the Namibian government and people, in particular the affected communities, when government itself pursues divide-and-conquer policies in dealing with members of the affected communities, and when many of them are excluded from participation and having any input in the negotiations?
How should Germany acknowledge to have committed genocide in Namibia during the period 1904-1907 when government negotiators are willing to agree with their German counterparts that the issue under negotiation is not genocide and reparations but reconciliation and reconstruction for development projects?
Again, these questions refer to the unresolved issues that indicate that Namibian officials are contradicting themselves and don’t know how to competently conduct the genocide and reparations negotiations with their German counterparts.
After five years of negotiations, Kuukongelwa-Amadhila – under so-called milestones - merely refers to the government's plans for achieving agreements in the next rounds of negotiations in the future, which means in the remaining three to four years of Hage Geingob’s second term as president of the country.
It is not surprising that the Swapo negotiators failed to engage to achieve meaningful agreements with representatives of the German government and obtain positive outcomes on the genocide and reparations issue.
For those of us who conduct ongoing research on the German position on genocide and reparations in Namibia for the Nama and Ovaherero people, there is nothing new about the positions of the two governments on this matter.
The German leaders, like their ambassadors Christian Matthias Schlaga, Egon Konchanke and Ruprecht Polenz, have already made public their position while these negotiations have been in progress.
Before the negotiations began, other German leaders have also made similar public statements. As such, those German perspectives should not be some of the issues Kuukongelwa-Amadhila informs us about - unless there is a specific reason for telling us that the German negotiators deliberately repeated those issues over a five-year period as a filibustering tactic to stall the negotiations.
Bordering on racism
Over the last 30 years, several leaders, activists, analysts, and writers from our communities have criticised the series of questionable statements German leaders in Namibia have made in public on genocide and reparations.
These statements have essentially included belligerent, insensitive, and often disrespectful and paternalistic public claims that border on racism to members of the affected communities.
Some of the comments and claims have included the following: There will be no German reparations and the admission of genocide has no legal consequences; Germany did not commit genocide against the Ovaherero and Nama people but only committed colonial atrocities; the Nama and Ovaherero should not claim that Germany committed genocide against them because, unlike the case of the Jewish people, only a few of them were killed by Germany; the German genocide was justified because the government acted in self-defence; the people of Namibia and their government officials and German officials should find together a common language that avoids the use of the terms genocide and reparations; and members of the affected communities do not deserve to be involved in negotiations because such deliberations only take place between sovereign states who have legal status under international law.
Put together, many of these public statements have reflected a Neo-Nazi type of denial.
However, few of the Swapo leaders who are involved in the negotiations, including Dr Zed Ngavirue, have consistently taken a strong position by reacting and informing their German counterparts to refrain from making such outrageous and insensitive public comments while the so-called confidential negotiations between the two governments were in progress.
Ambivalence and contradictions
The ambivalence, contradictions, and vacillations of Swapo leaders and negotiators concerning the genocide and reparations are also reflected in the Kuukongelwa-Amadhila parliamentary statement. Over the last three decades, Swapo leaders like Geingob have reflected these contradictions and vacillations in the way that they have poorly handled the genocide, reparations and other related issues.
This has also emboldened the German leaders in their resolve to manipulate and insult members of the affected communities and the Namibian government officials themselves who are involved in the negotiations on this issue.
One of Geingob’s main contradictions involves the way he justifies his ill-informed view that a national identity overrides or is more important than what he calls the tribal identity. Geingob does not understand that how he and his party have handled the issue enhances tribal and not a national identity. This approach does not positively contribute to the development of national identity among minority groups.
For example, a case in point is how Geingob refuses to attend Damara festivals at Okombahe, claiming that they are tribal. Then, he finds ways to justify attending similar festivals in the northern regions of the country because he claims that festivals in those areas promote a national identity.
Geingob doesn't realise that these contradictory political tactics are counter-productive and that he will never effectively promote a national identity with such approaches.
At times, Geingob and his colleagues have seemed to talk boldly against the German officials on this issue of genocide and reparations. However, for the most part, they have capitulated and gone along with the German demands and policies to exclude members of the affected communities, including those living in the diaspora, from participation in the negotiations.
Further, over the last three decades, some Swapo leaders themselves have also made public denials of the genocide. Some have done this through their unsubstantiated claim that the German colonial government did not only commit genocide against the Ovaherero and Nama people, but against all Namibian citizens, and, therefore, reparations are supposedly a national issue.
The German leaders have gone along with this false claim because it enables both governments to divide and conquer Namibian ethnic groups. However, despite this approach, the German leaders know quite well which groups its colonial government did and did not target during the war.
I am also referring to how the German government officials tried to play games and repeatedly made claims about the so-called economic inability of Germany to pay reparations to the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany at the 1952 Wassenaar, Holland, reparations negotiations with the leaders of Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference.
The Kuukongelwa-Amadhila parliamentary statement reveals that since World War I, the tactics and manipulative methods of the German officials have not changed in any significant ways.
The statement also reveals that the Swapo negotiators are not familiar with the German history of genocide and reparations negotiations. This is the reason why they are unable to competently deal with and bring to an end the German approach of playing with words and engaging in manipulative manoeuvres without agreeing to anything in over five years.
Drawing on precedent
If the Swapo negotiators were familiar with the history, they would have drawn heavily on the precedent of the leaders of Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference under the leadership of their able leader Dr Nahum Goldmann.
Unlike Swapo leaders, the Jewish leaders went prepared to the reparations negotiations with their German counterparts, knowing that the key to making progress and achieving agreements centered around four main areas, namely: 1) Unity among the Jewish leaders of the claims conference and the state of Israel to negotiate together as a unified unit, regardless of the difficulties encountered in the negotiations; 2) Securing a commitment and sense of sincerity on the part of the Germany leader to pay reparations; 3) Demanding huge sums of money that are commensurate with the Jewish human and property loss involved; and 4) the adoption and application of strategies to ensure serious reparations negotiations.
In particular, the last point was important to the Jewish negotiators, and they ensured that the German negotiators did not deviate from the task at hand in the meetings so that they could drive the negotiations in the direction of endless game playing around terminologies and economic bargaining.
Part one of this opinion piece was published on 31 March.
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.