community, education, technology

Non-reparations for Namibia


History has a few rare instances of reparations paid by colonizers to the lands they colonized. Mostly, the reparations flow the other way. As in the shameful case of France and the United States decimating Haiti by demanding to be paid for having to free their Haitian slaves.

Even when agreements are made where reparations flow in the correct direction, the payments are wholly inadequate and benefit the colonizers rather than the colonized. One such agreement that has recently gotten media attention is the non-reparation proposed to be paid to Namibia by Germany for the genocide of the Namaqua and Herero people conducted between 1904 and 1908.

The amount of 1.3 billion dollars over 30 years is being offered as 'financial aid' to bury all future discussion of the matter and to block any further conversation about reparations. Kind of a forgive and forget hush money payment. Here is the Joint Declaration: And here are some of the reasons it is wholly unacceptable.

  • The joint declaration was constructed by the German and Namibian governments. It was accepted by Namibia without including the Nama and Herero communities in a real way (likely because of its leniency and forgive and forget nature)

    It was claimed that by negotiating with the Namibian government, Germany violated the participation rights of the Ovaherero, Nama, Damara and San communities under international law. In particular, it was argued that excluding these communities from the negotiation process violated Article 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which provides that ‘indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedure.’ Reconciliation without Reparation - GPIL

  • The amount of $1.35 billion over 30 years is paltry. That is $45 million/year or $112 per capita counting the ~400,000 Nama and Herero people in Namibia today.

    Seen another way, it is 0.001056% of Germany's 2022 GDP. Through this lens, it appears the German government is simply trying to swat away and inconvenience. Not truly acknowledging and developing the peoples harmed by the atrocities Germany committed.

    ...was about roughly the same amount German development cooperation had spent in the country in the thirty years since Namibia’s independence in 1990. Namibia, on the other hand, agreed at least politically not to raise any claims for reparations in the future. Reconciliation without Reparation - GPIL

  • There is a reference to the land that the German government stole for its descendants in the declaration, but it seems to be a foregone conclusion that there is nothing to be done about that.

  • The language of "events that, from today’s perspective, would be called genocide." is entirely unacceptable. Genocide is genocide. The qualification is a dishonest bit of 'we did nothing wrong at the time' backpedaling.

  • While a majority of Herero and Nama people today are in Namibia, we have to recognize that the borders of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Angola were arbitrarily drawn by colonial powers. There are Nama and Herero people outside the borders of Namibia who this apology is not directed towards, and who will not see even the meagre economic benefit it is supposed to offer.

  • "Both Governments share the understanding that these amounts mentioned above settle all financial aspects of the issues relating to the past addressed in this Joint Declaration." - :red flag: This is the part of the document that makes it so heinous. Governments making clandestine agreements, committing national policy without public consent.

  • The term 'reparation' is not mentioned a single time in this document. In fact, the entire language in the joint declaration is meant to absolve Germany of the responsibility for reparation.

A more incisive analysis of the declaration by legal experts at GPIL can be found here. A quote:

Foreign Minister Maas made it clear that no legal consequences and, in particular, no claims for compensation could be derived from the joint declaration. First of all, the document in question was a mere ‘political declaration’, rather than a legally binding international treaty. The declaration spoke of ‘atrocities’, ‘outstanding questions’ and ‘injustice of the past’, rather than of crimes or internationally wrongful acts. The Federal Government recognized Germany’s ‘historical and moral responsibility’ and accepted a ‘moral, historical and political obligation’ – but not a legal one. There was no mention of reparations or compensation. Instead, the declaration referred in neutral language to ‘means for reconciliation and reconstruction’, a ‘reconstruction and development support programme’, a ‘joint trust or fund in order to select and fund projects which aim to improve reconciliation’ and ‘a grant’.

Most importantly, the classification of the atrocities as ‘genocide’ was qualified by adding the phrase ‘from today’s perspective’. The term ‘genocide’ was thus employed in a historical-political, rather than in a legal sense. This meant that Germany had prevailed. The meaning of the term ‘genocide’ had dominated the negotiations of the joint declaration. While it was Namibia’s aim that Germany officially acknowledge that a genocide in the legal sense took place and pay compensation, Germany was prepared to use the term only in a historical-political sense; its main argument being that the Genocide Convention of 1948 could not be applied retrospectively. Germany was afraid that a use of the term ‘genocide’ in the legal sense could give rise to claims for reparations.

The only thing that is worth keeping in this declaration is the acknowledgement of the atrocities committed. It provides a starting point for the discussion about how things can be made right. But reconciliation and remembrance committees, and $1.35 billion paid as 'financial aid' over 30 years are token acts.

Reparations and reconciliation agreements should not be constructed with a forgive-and-forget framework that puts the entire burden and discomfort on the exploited group, but rather with a restorative justice mindset. Justice, understanding, remorse, and a desire to learn are not the forces that created this joint declaration, unfortunately.

The history of this genocide has recently resurfaced in the global consciousness because Germany offered to weigh in at the ICJ against South Africa and Palestine - on behalf of Israel. The date Germany chose to do this - January 12th - was the 120th anniversary of the uprisings by the Nama and Herero people against their German tormentors.

As such, the declaration is already a failure. Since, over the course of this reconciliation process with Namibia, the German state has clearly learned nothing about what freedom means for the occupied.

Apology is cheap. A carefully worded, politically motivated apology is completely worthless.


A discussion of the Joint Declaration by Namibian people on a local radio show in Namibia: