Among the most horrific massacres in history, but which few in American public schools or the West generally actually learn about, is the Namibian genocide. Often referenced as the Herero and Nama genocide, it was the first such mass killing event of the 20th century, occurring between 1904 and 1908 in German Southwest Africa (today's Namibia) and taking the lives of an estimated multiple tens of thousands to up to over 100,000 - mostly due to starvation, dehydration, and disease - after a short-lived rebellion saw the imperial German Army drive tribes into the desert en mass, and later into concentration camps.
Late last month, over a century later, the German government for the first time ever issued a formal apology amid a push for reparations. Berlin followed with a pledge of 1.1 billion euros (almost $1.3BN) toward infrastructure development for Namibia. However, it stopped short of offering direct reparations.
Namibia's leaders have called the offer which would be paid out over three decades "not enough", but have also conceded it's "a step in the right direction".
"Germany has, historically, refused to acknowledge its role in the ethnic cleansing, which decimated two marginalized ethnic groups in the South African country. But last week, more than 100 years after the violence occurred, the European country finally acknowledged that its actions constituted genocide," Smithsonian Magazine writes. "As Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a May 28 statement, Germany plans to pay $1.35 billion (€1.1 billion) toward infrastructure development in Namibia over the next three decades."
Namibian Vice President Nangolo Mbumba issued a statement on Friday, saying "No amount of money in any currency can truly compensate the life of a human being."
"We need to recognize that the amount of 1.1 billion euros agreed upon between the two governments is not enough and does not adequately address the initial quantum of reparations initially submitted to the German Government," he added.
This came after the top leader of the Herero people, chief Vekuii Rukoro, dismissed the whole German overture as an "insult" due to its stopping short of reparations, also amid allegations that the main ethnic groups impacted were not consulted during "closed door" talks with the German government.
“According to the chiefs, descendants of the Ovaherero and Nama victims were not consulted during the talks, which took place behind closed doors.” https://t.co/QRSUmAdZUT— IB Nyei (@Ibnyei) June 1, 2021
"These are historic choices we have to make, very difficult as they are. If there were other opportunities to squeeze money out of the Germans, we could have done it," Mbumba said at the briefing.
"I don't think that any Namibian would think that the money is enough to compensate for all that happened – to be killed, to be chased out of your country; no amount of money can do that," he said.
A number of other European former colonial powers at the time of the late 19th into early 20th century "Scramble for Africa" have long sought to downplay or hide their dark pasts. Germany likely fears that moving forward with reparations as a major precedent would set off a domino effect demanding other claims and large government payouts over past events.
Belgium in particular has faced increasing scrutiny over the past two decades as more of its own suppressed history and documentation of mass death in Belgian Congo emerges under the time of King Leopold II.