Now Tanzania seeks reparations from Germany
Publish date: 13 February 2017
Issue Number: 714
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Tanzania's Government is considering legal action to force former coloniser Germany to pay reparations for alleged atrocities committed more than a century ago. At the same time, Legalbrief reports that a court date has been set in a federal lawsuit lodged in a US court against the German Government for reparations. Germany last month admitted to transgressions in Namibia over the deaths of 65 000 people in what is viewed by many as the first genocide of the 20th century. Tanzania’s Defence Minister Hussein Mwiny last week told lawmakers that the government will seek compensation over the tens of thousands of people who were allegedly starved, tortured and killed by German forces trying to contain rebellious tribes. A report on the News24 site notes that Mwinyi said he would officially write to Tanzania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs ‘so that they can take the matter to the German government’. ‘Compensation is what we are looking for, and there are a few other examples in the African region of countries who have asked for this compensation. So we are hoping to take this forward to the German government ourselves,’ Mwinyi said, according to the report. It says if Tanzania's Government presses for reparations, the East African country would be following the recent example of neighbouring Kenya, where a group of elderly Kenyans won compensation from the British Government for acts of torture blamed on British colonial officials. In 2013, the British Government said it ‘sincerely regrets’ the acts of torture carried out against Kenyans fighting for liberation from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. It also paid about $21.5m to the 5 200 Kenyans who were found to have been tortured. A report on the IBTimes site notes that Germany ruled Tanzania, then known as Tanganyika, between 1890 and 1919, after which date Britain took control of the East African nation.
The Namibian reparations trial is set to take place in the US District Court in Manhattan under the Alien Tort Statute, an 1879 law often invoked in human rights cases. New Era reports that the class-action suit, filed by Ovaherero Chief Vekuii Rukoro seeks reparations from the present German Government for genocide carried out by German colonial troops more than a century ago. The plaintiffs are also demanding that their representatives be included in ongoing talks between Germany and Namibia, which are aiming for a joint declaration on their common past. Up to 100 000 Hereros and Namas are believed to have been killed by German Imperial troops in the early 1900s in what was then the German colony of South-West Africa. Successive German governments have refused to accept the atrocities as genocide. The present government only agreed in 2015 to the killings being described as genocide, reversing its earlier position. The dialogue between Germany and Namibia includes discussions about an official apology for the genocide. However, Germany’s Ambassador to Namibia, Christian Schlaga, has publicly ruled out paying reparations, the report notes.
In a Truth Out analysis, Ama Biney notes that while no amount of financial compensation can address the psychological and emotional scars of enslavement of people of African descent, a comprehensive economic package needs to address the fact that the current economic and technological underdevelopment of Africa and the Caribbean is symptomatic of the impact of 400 years of enslavement. ‘This enslavement was followed by the brief but no less damaging interlude of colonialism and must be recognised as central to any form of reparations. There should be legal redress for the lives of the hundreds of Black men killed by racist police officers, as well as the people of African descent unjustly incarcerated in America's prisons. There are those who refuse to accept the fact that the economic wealth of Europe was built on the sweat, blood and toil of African people to the detriment of Africa. Yet, let us be clear that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was not a trade. The meaning of trade supposes equal benefit to both parties. It was not trade but the looting of Africa. The consequence for Africa was and remains that the African economy taken as a whole was diverted away from its previous line of development and became distorted.'