The Berlin Conference of 1885, where the land belonging to Africans was partitioned between various European countries brought a lot of tragedy into the continent.

The amount of loss, and destruction, probably unquantifiable, left a terrible legacy on the continent. Human lives were lost to slavery, and subsequently colonialism. The social, cultural and religious ways of life were negatively altered, and the adoption of European and western cultures, values, and language still has an effect on the continent.

Much of the continent’s mineral wealth, and other natural resources were plundered.  The gold, bronze and woodcarvings amongst the valuable artifacts were stolen, stashed in personal collections, and national museums of most of the countries that participated in the Berlin Conference. Fertile lands were snatched away and the owners of the land were dispossessed. Mineral resources are still being exploited. The material dispossession added to the psychological trauma, and lack of dignity many of our forefathers suffered at the hands of the white people, and the system of colonialism. The oppression was severe and destructive beyond words.

Before the Germans lost some of their territories to other European powers after their defeat in the Second World War, they had made considerable humanitarian damage in the colonies they governed. Some of the colonies they governed were Tanganyika, Rwanda, parts of Mozambique, which fell under the German East Africa.

Namibia was under German South West Africa, as were parts of Botswana. In German West Africa there was Kamerun (before it was divided between the British and the French), and Togoland (which was also divided between the British and French).

In 1905-1907, the Germans, in the Majimaji Rebellion in Tanzania slaughtered a lot of the Majimaji warriors. They didn’t stop there. In Namibia, the Herero and Nama were killed by the Germans between 1904 and 1908 resulting in one of the worst genocides before the Holocaust. The women of these ethnic groups were raped and various experiments were said to have been be conducted on them.

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Almost 100 years later, a case has been opened up against the German government and the leaders of the Herero and Nama communities have demanded reparation payments for what the ethnic groups suffered. The German government has claimed that it’s been paying development aid since 1990 worth hundreds of mullion of dollars.

The German ambassador to Namibia, Christain Matthias Schlaga was quoted by Al Jazeera saying, “we do not talk about reparations. We do not use the term reparations in our official communication with Namibia for the very simple fact that reparations is a legal term and has very legal implications, and as we do not start from the basis that this is a legal case but more a moral and historic obligation, we cannot talk about reparations.”

The Ovaherero Paramount Chief, Advocate Vekuii Rukorohas been critical of Germany’s stance on the issue saying in a statement, “The German people must understand one political reality: their cheque book diplomacy has limitations; any agreement which does not include the leaders who represent the overwhelming majority of the affected people, will be totally meaningless”.

The Herero ethnic group were used as experiments by the Germans Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A lawsuit was filed this January, alleging that over 100,000 Herero and Nama people died in a campaign of annihilation led by German General Lothar von Trotha.  The suit was reportedly filed in New York under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows non-U.S. citizens to make claims before U.S. Federal Court for international law violations. The suit alleges that from 1885 to 1903 about one-quarter of Ovaherero and Nama lands were taken without compensation by German settlers, with the explicit consent of German colonial authorities. A U.S.-based non-profit group, Association of the Ovaherero Genocide, is one of the plaintiffs, along with Chief Rukoro, identified as the paramount chief of the Ovaherero people, and David Frederick, chief and chairman of the Nama Traditional Authorities Association.

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Stating the Ovaherero case, the Paramount Chief, Advocate Rukoro further noted, “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”.

There have been demands for reparation from various African countries for the atrocities committed against ethnic groups from various countries on the continent.