Rwanda genocide survivor and genocide expert, Honore Gatera, has cautioned Namibians against identifying themselves with their tribes, saying this might lead to tribal wars or genocide.
His warning comes amid growing tribal tensions, particularly amongst the Ovaherero and Nama tribes, who feel excluded in several economic spheres and reparation negotiations between the Namibian government and Germany over the 1904-1908 genocide.
Gatera, who was in the country as a guest of the Riruako Centre for Genocide and Memory Studies, delivered a lecture at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), where he shared his expertise on genocide prevention and tolerance of diverse cultures, among others.
Speaking during an exclusive interview with the Windhoek Observer on Thursday, the director of Kigali Genocide Memorial said Namibians should be careful not to nature the seeds of genocide or tribal conflict since they do not grow as fast as people can imagine.
He said genocide is something that is planted in people’s minds gradually.
“You should fight against anything that separates you as Namibians. Differences will exist anywhere in the world, but these differences should not guide you more than what unites you. Namibia has several languages, but there are certain values that unite Namibians.
“If people can unite despite their differences, then there is nothing that they cannot do. There are solutions in our culture and in our politics that can unite people instead of dividing them.”
He said Rwandans have been able to reconcile despite a bloody genocide in 1994, which saw members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation murder as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, through the value placed on community justice.
“Rwanda post-genocide has been able to restore community justice. If families have issues with each other and cannot understand one another, elders are called upon to reconcile them and to punish those who are in the wrong.
“I will not say that everything is 100 percent, we still have a long way to go. We still have people intoxicated by genocide, and it’s not easy to change them, but the younger generation can change.”
Gatera said he finds it hard to understand why the Namibian government would exclude communities directly affected by genocide.
“You discuss reparation based on what happened in the past. All citizens should feel involved in the process. Reparation should make everyone happy; it requires people to work together.
“I don’t see why representatives of affected communities should be excluded. If there are representatives of the affected communities they should be allowed to defend the interests of their communities.”
He, however, cautioned that in the fight for reparation, no tribal grouping should see itself as superior than the other in the process.
This comes as the Ovaharero and Nama traditional leaders have been agitating for their involvement in the discussions with German, arguing that they, instead of government, should lead negotiations for reparation since the Germans are liable for their actions against the two distinct groups.
“If you consider one group and say these are the people that are affected by genocide that should receive reparations, that triggers divisions and disunity. I think it’s better for the different tribal groups to work together than to have representatives of the affected tribal group lead the process for reparation.”
In his view, government should lead the process for reparations, but with the involvement of the different groups.
There have also been calls that any reparations to be paid by the German government should be used to develop areas or communities affected by the 1904-1908 genocide instead of the whole country, but Gatera advised against financial reparation.
“One major enemy of human life is money. Many lives have been destroyed on this earth because of money. Money received as reparation should be invested in something beneficial to the whole country, something that doesn’t generate hatred because there are those who will say that the reparation money is not being used as intended.”
In closing, Gatera praised Namibia as one of the countries in Africa that have done a good job in terms of economic development post-independence.
“You should keep up the pace and redouble your efforts to keep this development going,” he said.