Another former colony wants Germany to pay for its atrocities in Africa

Germanys colonial past is catching up with it.
Germanys colonial past is catching up with it.
Image: (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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Germany’s colonial ghosts are once again haunting the country in the present day. Lawmakers in Tanzania have begun the process to demand compensation from Germany for atrocities committed at the dawn of the twentieth century.

The Maji Maji rebellion returned to the spotlight last week after minister of Defense and National Service Hussein Mwinyi announced on Feb. 8 that Tanzania would seek an apology from 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,” the minister told German news outlet Deutsche Welle, adding that the money would go to the descendants of victims and not the national treasury.

Mwinyi said he was encouraged by the Mau Mau in Kenya and the Nama and Herero in Namibia, who achieved post-colonial justice. In 2013, a lawsuit brought by five elderly victims of colonial-era torture and forced labor saw the British government award £19.9 million ($24.8 million) to over 5,000 Kenyans. That led to as many as 40,000 Kenyans launching a similar lawsuit in 2016.

Last year, Germany finally acknowledged that its first genocide was in fact in Namibia at the turn of the century, and committed to compensation in the form of aid. Then in January this year, the descendants of the murdered Herero and Nama people filed a class action lawsuit against the German government.

While Germany’s colonial record was already cruel, it was in Tanzania where their extreme tactics led to the highest fatalities. An estimated 75,000 people died, but some believe it could be as many as 300,000. The African population in the region decreased by as much as three quarters (pdf).

To counter the Maji Maji rebellion from 1905 to 1907 in southern Tanzania, then Tankanyika, the German colonial army practiced extreme warfare reserved for “wild people and barbarians” (pdf). The German army starved their opponents to death, destroying fields, homes and livestock even as their guns outmatched the spear-wielding African soldiers on the battlefield. Only once total “capitulation” was secured, did colonial officials begin to pass out decent rations of grain.

Some historians consider (pdf) the Maji Maji rebellion as the first nationalist stand against colonialism, as various tribes came together to fight the German army. In the present day, this latest lawsuit against a formal colonial power could signal a trend in African, Asian and South American victims seeking reparations for the suffering of their ancestors.