Genocide negotiations not on the right track
The reported events surrounding the negotiations between the Namibian and German governments on the issue of the Nama and Ovaherero genocides resembles a situation where things are falling apart and the centre is no longer holding just as celebrated Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe alluded to in one of his books: Things Fall Apart.
This is attested by the self-defeating public pronouncements by different representatives of the Namibian government that are currently leading the Nama and Ovaherero genocide negotiations.
Three voices have emerged which have a role in the genocide negotiations process and I find this a major factor that severely weakens the Namibian position.
The first voice is that of our Honourable Vice President, Dr. Nicky Iyambo. On the eve of the delegation’s departure for Germany, the vice president publicly announced that the “formal negotiations on the Nama and Ovaherero genocide” were starting.
Dr Iyambo never stated that the Namibian delegation was going to “lay a positive foundation for the negotiation” (like we are now reading through the media quoting some members of the Namibian delegation). He clearly stated that the delegation was leaving to begin the official negotiation process. And yet, apparently, this is not the case.
Sources are now being quoted in the media saying that the session in Germany was only to discuss and arrange the negotiations. The difference is major. During the negotiations it was mentioned that the vice president consulted with a group of chiefs and traditional leaders from the affected communities.
Dr Iyambo’s public announcements about the genocide negotiations were followed by that of Dr Zed Ngavirue, the second voice in play.
He was recently quoted in one of the local newspapers saying, “…We have submitted our document, which will pave the way forward concerning the genocide talks between the two nations. What I can confirm is that we have laid a positive foundation, which will lead these negotiations.”
Ngavirue added that the public needs to have confidence in the delegation’s ability to bring finality to the issue. It was further reported that he remained mum on details; saying he first needed to brief President Hage Geingob on the outcome of the first round of talks before any statement can be made.
Nonetheless, before the president arrived back in the country from New York, the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation (MIRC) issued a press release on the matter, becoming the third voice involved. The MIRC statement seems to contradict Dr Ngavirue’s contention that nothing can be said officially until the president has been consulted.
The three voices beg the question, who is really in charge of this negotiation and gives the official reaction and responses regarding all results and issues? Is it the vice president, the designated Special Envoy, Dr Ngavirue, or the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation?
The missive from the MIRC on this matter informed the public that, “it wishes to reiterate that the affected communities are represented on the technical committee and also formed part of the negotiating team that accompanied the special envoy during the first round of negotiations with the German government. In addition, the informal Chief’s Consultative Forum was convened by the Vice President, whereby regular consultations with and updates of the chiefs and senior members of the affected communities on the genocide negotiations are conducted.”
On principle, as a descendant of the victims of the Nama and Ovaherero genocide, I would like to contest and reject in the strongest terms, some of the seriously misleading points raised in the statement from the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation.
The document further states: “As it is known, some affected communities have refused to join the government’s negotiation efforts for they seek to negotiate directly with the German government.
“This undermines the legitimacy of government and it is contrary to the principle of international law where only State actors have the jurisdiction to negotiate with other States.”
With all due respect, the statements above are wrong. These comments from the Namibian government can erode public confidence and could be interpreted as exposing the government as uncertain and disorganized concerning the handling of the negotiations.
One hopes that this negative situation will soon be corrected in order for the public to know who is responsible for what as far as the handling of this matter is concerned.
Without full information, the matter is open to speculation which may not always be accurate or productive. Keeping issues as sensitive as this secret only meant for the attention of untouchable State actors, sows discord in the entire process.
This situation presents many questions that beg for answers. For the descendants of the Namas and Ovahereros, the genocide issue is multi-territorial in nature. Many of our people now reside in many countries across the globe. I am concerned about whether this matter has been considered in the current talks?
Are the chiefs and genocide committees of the affected communities’ privy to the content and details of the documents submitted to Germany? Why is government not holding public meetings with the affected communities?
Who formulated the Namibian government’s position on genocide and how was it finalized? Where and when were the representatives of the majority of the affected communities consulted by the Namibian government?
What consensus was reached on crucial aspects such as apology, restitution and reparation? What type of reparations will be acceptable to the descendants of the victims of genocide and why?
Has the German government submitted its position papers to the Namibian negotiating team? If so, what is the German position so far in the negotiations?
Given the release of the MIRC media statement on this matter, political correctness and populist political posturing seems to be the preferred overriding consideration in dealing with this complex and sensitive genocide issue.
We are now in a new era of diplomatic paradigm shift whereby States and non-State actors are equal stakeholder participants in aspects of international relations and international law such as this one. The ministry’s statement does not embrace this new diplomatic negotiating reality.
Surely if these negotiations are to yield positive outcomes, the Namibian government needs to change its self–defeating approach in handling these talks.
State actors are no longer the sole negotiators on issues of genocide as the affected communities are equal and active stakeholders in the process as is demonstrated by other genocide case studies in global politics.
I must reiterate that the burden of the legacy of genocide lies heavily on some of us in Namibia and the diaspora. The narrative about the genocide is not just a topic for debate, but is a life experience. For us, genocide has not only shaped our consciousness, but its horrible negative legacy of geographical displacement and economic dispossession impacts on our physical existence on a daily basis.
The German authorities continue to dodge their responsibility and accountability and will not apologize in detail and be accountable to remedy the damage their country has caused.
The continuous refusal by the German authorities to take responsibility for the crimes against humanity inflicted upon our fore-bearers, clearly demonstrates to us that the current German government is an accomplice to the Nama and Ovaherero genocide of 1904-1908.
This unfolding situation of the Nama and Ovaherero agitation due to the apparent mishandling of the genocide negotiations by the Namibian and German governments as reflected above can be one of the causes of future political instability in Namibia, if it is not amicably resolved.
German government’s continued reference to a ‘Special Relationship’ with Namibia grounded in the granting of bilateral foreign aid packages falls short of what is needed to resolve this issue. Basing compensation regarding this issue on monetary State-to-State contributions shows many of us in the affected communities that the Germans remain insensitive about the depth of human tragedy perpetrated by their colonial troops upon the Namas and Ovaherero victims.
What is the total amount of the bilateral aid between Namibia and Germany has been spent specifically to develop infrastructure in the areas of Namibia where the majority of the descendants of the victims of German genocide reside? This information can be important in discussions about this issue.
History tells us that the former so-called Einheimische Reserven or ‘Native Reserves’ from the time of the Deutsches Kolonialreich (German colonial empire) such as drought-ravaged Otjimbingue, Omatjete, Aminuis, Hoachanas, Gibeon and others were created for the accommodation of the Nama and Ovaherero war prisoners who were released from the concentration camps.
Is the German government aware of the economically deplorable living conditions characterized by lack of modern infrastructure and economic development in those former ‘reserves’ where they forced the Namas and Ovaherero to reside?
Can the German government announce how much from the foreign aid they are purporting to be giving to Namibia, actually is earmarked for the benefit of Namibians of Germany ancestry who reside in this country? How much of that foreign aid supposedly for the government of Namibia is directed to educational institutions (German schools), cultural organizations and private entities linked to German economic and business interests in this country?
How does German foreign aid to Namibia benefit the descendants of the victims of genocide who reside in Angola, Botswana, Canada, Cameroon, Europe, Togo, South Africa, USA, and other parts of the globe?
The descendants of the victims of genocide know where our ancestral land is, but we choose not to ‘grab’ our ancestral lands because we believe in law and order and peace and stability in Namibia. But, this does not mean that we accept that our land is occupied by those who dispossessed and killed us in order to claim ownership of it. We have not and will not forget to whom our land actually belongs, regardless of how many decades pass while the injustice continues.
I highlighted the above, in order to demonstrate that as non-State actors, the descendants of the survivors of genocide must be taken seriously.
We therefore propose that halt the talks on the genocide issue in their current form, in order to employ a more inclusive approach which can deliver an amicable solution.
Government must then refer the entire issue of the current negotiations to parliament in order for the relevant parliamentary bi-partisan committee to conduct public hearings with the descendants of the affected communities regarding a common position and best approach to handle the negotiations.
The parliamentary committee conducting these public hearings on Nama and Ovaherero genocide can accept recommendations on that common position and best approach.
Parliamentary public hearings on the matter must also address the issue of the descendants of the victims of genocide living in the diaspora.
After the public hearings, parliament can then forward its findings and recommendations to the presidency for a final decision on the way forward on fully supported negotiations with the German government.
The descendants of the Nama and Ovaherero victims of genocide should narrate their own stories. As Namibians, we recognize and respect our government’s mandate with regard to the overall relationship with Germany. At the same time, our birth right to represent ourselves on the matters which affect us cannot be taken away for any reason.
All of the descendants of the victims of genocide should be at the core of the negotiation process and cannot be co-opted onto sub-technical committees or merely updated on the process from time-to-time. We must drive the process.
To that end, I respectfully submit this letter.