|The AICGS Society, Culture, and Politics Program is hosting the following seminar:|
|Transatlantic Dynamics in Ongoing Postcolonial Negotiations
|The AICGS Society, Culture, and Politics Program is hosting the following seminar:|
|Transatlantic Dynamics in Ongoing Postcolonial Negotiations
According to a press release by the human rights advocacy group, Berlin Postkolonial, the state-funded Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage (SPK) has agreed to start provenance research and preparation to repatriate more than 1,000 human remains stolen from Tanzania, Ruanda and Burundi, 1885-1918. Thousands of human remains plundered from former German colonies remain captive in archives and personal collections in Germany.
On 16th March 2017 the victims of German Genocide, Ovaherero and Nama of Namibia, alongside their Legal Counsel Kenneth Mccallion, appeared for a pre-trial conference before Judge Swain in an open court in Manhattan New York, United States of America. However, Germany did not show up for the court hearing. Judge Swain ordered that a second complaint be issued against Germany in terms of the Hague Convention, giving Germany until 21st July 2017 for the next pre-trial conference.
Namibian scholars, students and artists are invited to apply for a full stipend of up to 12 months to work with a research team in Hamburg/Germany on a substantial collection of colonial photographs from German Southwest Africa, with a special focus on the Herero and Nama genocide and its aftermath. The collection of about 1,000 photographs is part of a larger collection of colonial-era photographs in Hamburg’s Ethnological Museum. The project is funded by the GerdaHenkel-Foundation with a monthly stipend according to the qualification and standing of the candidate (up to 1,400 €/month).
Advocate Vekuii Rukoro, OvaHerero Traditional Authority, Paramount Chief strongly rejects Mr. Rupert Polenz’s statement to German media and the public suggesting that the Nama and OvaHerero reparations claims are about individual financial compensation and enrichment. Mr. Polenz’s remarks were made in response to the Nama and OvaHerero filing a case in US courts against the German federal government.
“The Ovaherero and Nama demand is on record and has always been for COLLECTIVE REPARATIONS on behalf of the DESCENDANTS of the VICTIM COMMUNITIES who were the subjects of OFFICIAL GENOCIDE committed by the German State. The Ovaherero of today, for example, are the lawful heirs of the 115,830 square miles of land that our ancestors lost to German and other settlers as a direct result of the Genocide and German expropriations without compensation. Such reparations are due and payable to us as a People COLLECTIVELY” says OvaHerero Traditional Authority, Paramount Chief, Advocate Vekuii Rukoro.
“We have repeatedly requested the German government to meet with us in order to resolve this issue through dialogue. However, the racist arrogant attitude of their representatives left us with no other choice but to seek legal redress through the US courts system. We know it is going to be a long road to justice and we are very much prepared to sacrifice whatever it takes for our just cause” – Jefta Nguherimo, Vice-President, ONGI, Inc.
First congress focusing on the genocides against the Ovaherero and Nama in Berlin: Reconciliation requires readiness for dialogue and respect. Moving reception for Ovaherero and Nama delegates to the Berlin congress on their arrival in Windhoek, Namibia. A joint resolution of the congress delegates demands direct participation of the Ovaherero and Nama’s representatives in all Namibian-German negotiations on the genocide committed against their communities and global recognition of the first genocide of the 20th century.
Many exuberant supporters welcomed home Ovaherero and Nama delegates Tuesday (October 18, 2016) to Windhoek after the first transnational congress in Berlin under the theme “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AFTER GENOCIDE“ highlighting the genocides committed between 1904-08. More than 50 Ovaherero and Nama delegates from Namibia, the United States, Canada, and Britain had come together in Berlin on the invitation of Berlin Postkolonial, AfricAvenir and the NGO alliance “Völkermord verjährt nicht!/No Amnesty on genocide!”. The Ovaherero Traditional Authority, Paramount Chief Adv. Vekuii Rukoro, invited all the Ovaherero to Okahandja this coming Sunday to report on the Berlin congress of last weekend.
During several addresses at the congress, two impressive rallies in central Berlin, a press conference organised by Niema Movassat, MP for DIE LINKE, and a work meeting with Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the German parliament or Bundestag, representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama associations made absolutely clear that reconciliation can only be achieved provided they are directly and without any preconditions involved in the negotiations about the issue of genocide against their communities between the Namibian and German governments underway since 2014. They have emphasized that the two governments must recognise the relevant Namibian Parliament’s Resolution of 26th October, 2006, as the only valid and sound basis for the negotiations that must restart afresh with the Traditional Leaders of the Ovaherero and Nama Council on Genocide and Reparation, as well as guarantee the rights of the victim communities under international law.
In close co-operation with African, black and Germany-based non-governmental organisations critical of colonialism, Ovaherero and Nama delegates drew up a joint congress resolution which declares critical debate about the genocides a global task and a subject for society as a whole. Apart from the main demands for an official recognition of the genocides, a sincere apology by the German parlament and government and negotiations on reparations with the Ovaherero and Nama representatives from Namibia and their diaspora, calls were also made for critical observation of the demanded trialogue by non-government organisations (NGO).
Companies such as Deutsche Bank, Wecke & Voigts and Woermann that directly profited from the genocides and the forced labour of Ovaherero and Nama are urged to participate in compensating the affected communities who were entirely expropriated and forced to leave its lands. The congress resolution calls on the world’s nation states, the African Union, the United Nations and Christian churches, partly entangled in the genocides, to take the occasion of the ongoing UN Decade for People of African Descent and officially recognise the Ovaherero and Nama genocides as well as to support the victims’ just struggle for an apology and direct participation in the exclusive government negotiations.
During the next days, the congress resolution will be sent to the German and Namibian governments, to the U.N., to political parties, involved companies and to the Christian churches. According to the Berlin-based Herero Israel Kaunatjike of the alliance „No Amnesty on Genocide!” the congress is a “key step towards expanding the decades-long fight for justice”.
During last year’s allied campaign, “Genocide is Genocide!”, over 50 NGO and 150 prominent figures in politics and academia in Germany had already lent their support to the demands of the Ovaherero and Nama for direct participation in the negotiations on the genocide issue.
Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SPD), the former Development Minister, sent a greeting with a call for “moral and financial compensation” of the Ovaherero and Nama to the congress in Berlin. Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), the German government’s special representative, was invited to the congress but declined to take part in a panel discussion with the Ovaherero and Nama representatives or to meet the delegation during their stay in Berlin.
Contact: Israel Kaunatjike, Bündnis „Völkermord verjährt nicht!“, 0049-173-1035605 & Christian Kopp, Berlin Postkolonial, 0049-179-9100 976, firstname.lastname@example.org
Attachments: Berlin Congress Resolution
J. Nguherimo (congress on 14./15.10. in Berlin’s Centre Francais de Berlin): https://www.flickr.com/photos/namibdesert/sets/72157671857378894/<a
O. Feldhaus (March on 16.10.): https://www.flickr.com/photos/petshoppetshop/sets/72157673973860422
J. Zeller (March on 16.10.): https://www.flickr.com/photos/148332649@N03/
B. Sauer-Diete (13.10. Protest outside DHM & March on 16.10.): https://www.flickr.com/photos/basspunk/30115685750/
More information on: http://genocide-namibia.net/
In an Open Letter to the special envoys Mr. Polenz and Dr. Ngavirue, Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, and the Namibia Institute for Democracy, Mr. Festus Muundjua, a descendant of the 1904-1908 genocides victims, calls the ongoing negotiations between the German and Namibian a charade and an attempt to deceive the Namibian people and deny justice to the descendants of victims of the Ovaherero and Nama genocides. Mr. Muundjua cites the existence of a secret agreement between the German and Namibian governments that Germany does not have to pay reparations.
Human remains of former colonised people are still considered as objects of research in the German museums that currently hold them. This state of affairs is unbearable for Mnyaka Sururu Mboro and Christian Kopp, working for the organisation Berlin Postkolonial.
Right before Mnyaka Sururu Mboro flew to Germany for the first time in 1978, his grandmother had requested him to bring the head of Mangi Meli back to Tanzania. Mangi Meli was one of many anti-colonial resistant fighters who were killed by the German colonisers. Forty years later, the co-founder of the organisation Berlin Postkolonial and his colleague Christian Kopp are still asking for the return of thousands of remains of colonised people home and calling for a concrete acknowledgement of Germany’s colonial past and racist legacy.
Christian Kopp: Mboro, you have been advocating a critical perspective on colonialism and its legacy for a few decades now. Among other debates, you have actively campaigned for renaming streets of Berlin which still honour former colonial criminals and you guide educational city tours that unveil the postcolonial traces of the German capital. Where do you draw your motivation from?
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro: I have experienced British occupation in the Tanganyika region and the ensuing independence movement. My grandmothers also told me a lot on the German foreign occupation before 1918. Many evening stories were dedicated to Hermann Wissman’s military expeditions as Imperial Commissioner, to mkono wa damu, the “bloody hands” of Carl Peters, but also to the famous resistance of Mangi Meli, leader of the Wachagga people living on the Kilimanjaro. These things are deeply engraved. And when you find yourself in Berlin, and you see that there are still two “Wissmanstraßen” (Wissman Streets) and one “Petersallee” (Peters Avenue), and that this very colonial city does not seem to acknowledge its racist and oppressive legacy, then you tell yourself that you might obviously be one of the only ones here who could shed light upon this history and the pervasive forms of colonial oppression: forced labour, boycott, violent beatings, wars and uprisings, and the demonization of our cultures and spiritual beliefs by Christian missionaries. This work is essential, and therefore natural to me. What about you? What could have possibly motivated you as a white German during all those years?
Christian Kopp: Despite having studied history, I have only found out about our entangled colonial histories by discussing with you and other Tanzanian people more than ten years after graduating. It was not so hard to understand that this violent past, which is typically repressed, divides us more than it brings us closer. You made me realise that my personal engagement with the past may help to bridge this abyss between us. Since then I have critically reflected on Germany’s colonial past and I have supported initiatives lead by the descendants of colonised people for symbolic acknowledgements and material reparations. The scandalous situation of human remains from former colonies appears to me as the most urgent issue in that process. But you’ve even got a personal connection to the debate…
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro: Well, no doubt about that! When my grandmother heard that I was going to Germany, she made me promise that I would search for the remains of Mangi Meli and see to it that his head is ultimately repatriated to Tanzania. Meli and eighteen of his followers were hanged in March 1900 by German soldiers. Wachagga people are certain that his head was then severed and shipped to Germany. To us, who will all later be inhumed on our original land close to our kin, it is unbearable to know that his head could never be buried, particularly because the heads of the dead play a special role in our burials: they are always turned towards the Kibo, the highest summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. After a year, the skulls of the fathers are then dug up and reburied under the holy tree Isale after a sacred ceremony.
The search for Meli’s head started in the sixties; Wachagga, and particularly Meli’s direct descendants, already tried to locate it in Germany back then. Many believe that the complete evaporation of traces of its existence has been the cause for every misfortune that has descended upon the community ever since. A new request has recently been sent to the Foundation Prussian Cultural Heritage in Berlin. Do you find such a relentless dedication hard to understand?
Christian Kopp: Not one bit. I wouldn’t either accept that the remains of my ancestors be stored forever in a cardboard box on the other side of the planet! I can fully grasp the desire for descendants to welcome their ancestors back home and bury them with dignity, especially when those remains were sent to Europe to support racist scientific research. Just like the children of Meli’s children would like to witness his return, Timothy Frederick recently demanded the return of his forefather Cornelius Fredericks to the Nama community in Namibia in an eloquent intervention in Berlin in July 2015. This renowned leader of the Oorlam resistance against German colonial rule was indeed sent to a concentration camp on Shark Island in the Lüderitz Bay where he died in 1907. According to Nama oral history, his body was later decapitated.
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro: The remains of prominent anti-colonial leaders obviously have a deep political, cultural and spiritual significance for the respective communities – it was precisely often for this reason that some were shipped away. The most famous example was the story of Mkwawa’s head: he was killed in 1898 in former German East-Africa and his head was displayed by German colonists as the symbol for the crushed anti-colonial rebellion of the Wahehe, and later examined by famous anatomist Rudolph Virchow in Berlin. The return of his skull was part of the terms of the 1919 Versailles Treaty, but it was only repatriated to Tanzania in 1954. The remains of his father and the skull of his son, who was likewise killed by the German colonial troops, are still in Berlin as far as I know.
Christian Kopp: The archives of the Berlin Ethnological Museum suggest it indeed, and it is inexcusable that those responsible for the collections have not actively sought for those remains. When one realises the whole bustle that is made around the remains of Catholic Saints, or those of Prussian monarchs such as Frederic William I and Frederic the Great, whose remains were hid by the Nazis from the Allies, it seems unbelievable to me that people in Germany do not understand the importance of a restitution for the Mkwawa family and for the Wahehe in general.
Besides the remains of less-known and unidentified individuals acquired during the colonial era should also be proactively offered for restitution when their origins are known. In other words, the initiative should come from the museums themselves, instead of the usual reaction to repatriation claims. This would ensure that respect is given to the descendants who, as a rule, cannot know where the skeletal remains of their ancestors are presently housed. Other western countries such as the U.S. have repatriated soldiers who fell in the wars of the twentieth century in a monumental manner. For all that, if, in the case of unknown remains, the referencing and provenancing work leads to nothing more precise than their broad African origin, I would suggest that the African community in Germany be approached so that appropriate burials can be carried out with respect for the dignity of the dead.
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro: I am afraid, we are still far from this. One of the main reasons seems to be that only New Zealand, Australia and Namibia have made Germany to return human remains but most other governments – and among them the government of the United Republic of Tanzania we have informed about the matter – are nowhere near to stand up for the rights of the descendants and of the source communities. The statements emanating from German museums also show that they still consider themselves as the rightful owners of our ancestors. They emphasise that only the mere single cases which clearly indicate a “context of injustice” can be subjected to negotiations for their return. The right of being able to define a “context of injustice” is however withheld by those institutions, which maintain that a context of colonial occupation cannot be considered as such in principle. What are they telling us? That our ancestors might have sold or given the remains of their relatives of their own free will? Do they want to top it all by mocking us?
Christian Kopp: I fear that there is even more at stake for European museums than the simple question of housing those human remains. The collections were used for racist theories in anthropology. In other words, not only were they acquired in the context of colonial oppression, they also justified an extremely unethical scientific agenda whose apex came only a few decades later: The selection and extermination of Jewish people for “scientific research”, aiming at the completion of German anthropological collections. Therefor I am shocked when I hear nowadays of the alleged precious worthiness of those remains for the greater good and humanitarian scientific knowledge. It is not only inconsistent with the lack of appropriate archival material on these collections which has resulted from decades of neglect and indifference. This argument supports a model in which white German scientists deliberately continue studying the skeletal remains of colonised African people and other People of Color and look at them as mere “research material”– this is abusive.
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro is a teacher and a board member of Berlin Postkolonial. Christian Kopp is historian and board member of the same organisation. They are currently organising a conference for the educational project “Just Listen – Globalgeschichte von unten und zivilgesellschaftlicher Dialog” (“Global history from below and dialogue in civil society”) which will focus on the central position of the views and voices of colonised people and their descendants in the debate about human remains and sacred cultural objects in white museum collections. The conference will take place in Autumn 2017.