Namibia’s Ambassador Undermines Ovaherero and Nama Genocides Motions in the Bundestag
On March 14, 2016, the Namibian ambassador to Germany, apparently acting at the behest of the German federal government, wrote a letter appealing to Left and Green parties to withdraw their motions on the Ovaherero and Nama genocides. The motions by the Green and Left parties represent an attempt by German parliamentarians to provide a measure of justice for the victims of the Ovaherero and Nama genocides of 1904-1908. This is something that generations of descendants of these genocides have been seeking and actively campaigning for since Namibia’s independence in 1990. The motions recognize the genocides, include an apology and restitution for the victims and their descendants, and call for the involvement of the affected communities in the dialogue to resolve these issues. The affected communities welcome and supported these motions. While the Green Party’s motion was withdrawn prior to the debate, the Left Party motion was debated and voted down on March 16, 2016 ‒ a victory for the ambassador and the German federal government and a loss for the victims of the genocides.
The Left Party motion is one of the most detailed and comprehensive public documents by any party or government entity, including the Namibian government. Here are some of its most notable elements: supports the 26 October 2006 Namibian National Assembly resolution; requires the involvement of affected people in negotiations; recognizes need for restorative justice for victims that is separate from bilateral aid; recognizes the continued impact of expulsion from and appropriation of land and calls for mechanisms to address resultant structural imbalances; proposes a structural compensation fund to help address land issues and lack of infrastructure; holds accountable those businesses that benefited from labor, expulsion, and land appropriation; calls for educational and cultural exchanges; and calls for the return of stolen property and human remains. While I can imagine that the German federal government might disagree with some of these elements ‒ after all, it has not put forth its own motion ‒ it is hard to imagine which of these the Namibian government should find objectionable, especially given that the offspring of the victims welcome these proposals.
In his letter to the Bundestag the ambassador proposed that these motions should be replaced by a new and unknown motion to be produced shortly by the two governments, and a multi-party motion that would be guided by agreed-upon proposals of the Namibian and German governments that have not been made public by either government. Further, the Namibian government continues to refuse to involve affected communities and civic society. The ambassador talks of “Harambee” with the German federal government while engendering ohani (divisions) in Namibia. Not only does the Namibian ambassador appear to speak on behalf of the German government, he also seems to be telling the parliamentarians that the Namibian government, in working with its German counterpart, can deliver a better deal for Germany – likely one that does not go as far as the Left Party has proposed. The ambassador’s letter is essentially saying trust us to work with your government to protect Germany’s interests just as we have protected property rights after independence. What about the interests of the affected communities and individuals, Mr. Ambassador? One can only guess that the ambassador is referring to, among other things, policies such as the disastrous Willing Seller Willing Buyer (perhaps better referred to as Unwilling Seller, Unable Buyer policy, since many farm owners are unwilling to sell, and the disenfranchised cannot afford to buy). This is also the policy that enshrined the imbalances referenced in the Left Party motion, imbalances resulting from the Kaiser’s expropriation of land.
Clearly the German federal government’s moral and political calculations have evolved over the past couple of years due to efforts of the affected communities as well as of individuals, parliamentarians, and NGOs in Germany and all over the world. Reportedly, the German federal government is prepared to offer an apology, but they want the apology to be done correctly and to be accepted. Presumably, the soon to be produced multi-party motion by the two governments would pave the way for such an outcome. Furthermore, given the ambassador’s letter and the Namibian government’s refusal to engage the affected communities, the thinking must be that the Namibian Cabinet or National Assembly would accept the apology and absolve the German federal government of any future moral and legal responsibility. Such an apology will be morally hollow, will not be acceptable, and cannot lead to forgiveness and healing on the part of the victims. In fact, descendants will be left with a continued feeling of victimization by the German federal government, albeit with the acquiescence of the government of a free Namibia.
International conventions, Namibia’s constitution, and Namibia’s National Assembly resolution of 2016 all recognize and protect the rights of groups and individuals affected by genocide and crimes against humanity to seek appropriate legal and moral recourse and to speak for and represent themselves. Even the German federal government recognizes that the lack of involvement could be a significant hindrance in making limited progress. What is unbelievable and supremely immoral is that the Namibian government is essentially preventing progress on this issue by refusing to involve descendants in any possible outcome.
The victims of the genocides are scattered across the globe. They are in Botswana, South Africa, and Angola where their fore-bearers sought refuge. If their representatives are not involved in these negotiations, does the Namibian Government claim to negotiate on their behalf as well? This is an important issue because the Namibian Government continues to deny the descendants of the victims of genocides their right to return to their ancestral land. Those who dare to return to Namibia follow the same procedures as other emigrants and are eventually given citizenship by registration, which can be revoked at any time.
In a democracy, government protects and cherishes these rights. It is incumbent upon people of good conscience all over the world to remind governments of this sacred responsibility. It is equally important for the descendants of the OvaHerero and Nama genocides to speak up and demand that their government listens to them, protects them, and certainly not stand in the way of justice for them.
This is not a political issue; it is at its core a moral issue, and a moral test for the German federal government – can they do this right, and for the right reason?
To survivors of genocides and their descendants, genocide is and continues to be an existential issue. We live with it, and its memory haunts us. Efforts to deny, undermine, dismiss or whitewash our horror are painful and threatening and are seen as congruent with past efforts to deny us our humanity and basic rights, including the right to live. And, as our forbearers (including Kahimemua, Witbooi, and Rapote) did, and as our children and grandchildren expect us, we will continue to insist on justice – we have to.
Namibia is blessed with individuals of great courage and moral rectitude, from all walks of life and ethnicities and across the political spectrum. Many have publicly spoken with moral clarity on this issue; others do so privately, and just as forcefully. With the support of the Namibian community and friends all over the world, descendants of the genocide victims are resolute and united in their search for justice. This is what gives me hope that there will be a course correction and that the activities of the Namibian ambassador to Germany will go down in the annals of history as an unfortunate anomaly.
Dr. Kavemuii Murangi is a Namibian born educator currently residing in the USA. He is a descendant of the victims of the Ovaherero genocide and the founding director of the USA based OvaHerero, Mbanderu and Nama Genocide(s) Institute (ONGI) – https://theongi.org/; @ONGI1904