Today’s Namibia was once the German colony of South West Africa, for a 30-year period spanning of 1884 to 1915. From 1904-1908, German colonial troops committed the first genocide of the 20th century against the Herero and Nama people, many of whom rebelled against the labour and land impositions of colonial rule. Victims of the genocide did not receive justice, for the German colonial authority considered the violence of the day to be a by-product of its policy of settler colonialism.
Only in 2015, 100 years after the end of formal German rule, has the German government begun to atone for the Herero/Nama genocide, acknowledging the policy of massacres, starvation, forced deportations as genocidal violence. Descendants of survivors of the Herero/Nama genocide, frustrated with the denial of justice launched in 2017 an alien tort case in the United States. They sought German reparations for the “incalculable damages” wrought by German colonial rule and the policy of genocide. Their case was denied in March 2019, essentially absolving German of legal responsibility for its moral crimes. For now, at least.
Enter Reinhart Kössler
’s book, Namibia and Germany: Negotiating the Past
(University of Namibia Press, 2015), argues that both the German government needs to address its legacy of settler colonial rule, and that ordinary German citizens need to know their country’s violent past. Kössler advocates a way forward for dialogue and debate on Germany’s Namibian past, and what Namibians can do to gain closure on this painful chapter of their country’s history.