At the table

19 May 2017
Author   Uazuva Kaumbi
Monday, 15 May 2017, will go down in history as a very important date.  On that day, President Geingob received a delegation of Nama and OvaHerero traditional leaders to talk about matters related to the genocide perpetrated against the Nama and OvaHerero people. High-Five, President Geingob.
What makes this meeting significant is that this group of Nama and OvaHerero people (the victim communities), under the leadership of OvaHerero Paramount Chief (PC) Advocate Vekuii Rukoro (officially recognised as the Ombara Otjitambi jo VaHerero), had taken a position which was diametrically opposed to that of the Namibian Government (GRN).  The position of GRN is that the genocide negotiations must happen bilaterally between two sovereign states, namely Germany and Namibia. Thus, as a democratically elected Government, GRN regards itself as having the sole and exclusive mandate to talk on behalf of the communities that were decimated by the genocide. In this model, the victim communities are involved at the lower level of advisory and technical committees only, but have no direct seat and voice at the negotiating table. 
By contrast, the victim communities want a direct seat and voice at the negotiating table. Their view has hitherto been that there should be two Namibian delegations: one consisting of GRN representatives and another one consisting of representatives of the victim communities. This is in line with the principles of international law regarding the rights of the victims of genocide, as well as the 2006 National Assembly resolution that was unanimously adopted by the august house. Paragraph (iv) of the NA resolution reads thus: “That a dialogue be convened between, on the one hand, the German Government and on the other hand, the Namibian Government and representatives of the affected parties to try and resolve this matter amicably and thereby strengthening and solidifying the existing excellent relationship between the two countries (Germany and Namibia).”
PC Rukoro made it clear that these opposing positions are well-known, but the meeting at State House should be about finding common ground. In order to achieve that, GRN and the victim communities will each need to walk 50 miles towards the other party in order to meet half-way. For instance, the victim communities can accept to have only one Namibian delegation (instead of two distinct delegations), but with two distinct components: one for GRN and the other for the victim communities. But they will all be led by one head of delegation to be appointed by President Geingob in consultation with the victim communities. A deputy head of delegation will then be nominated by the victim communities.
If an agreement along those lines can be reached by the parties, then that will be a win-win outcome. It combines the one delegation wanted by GRN with the right to sit and speak at the negotiating table as demanded by the victim communities.  The modalities and protocols hereof can be worked out in detail at the level of technical committees.
President Geingob made it clear that he has already appointed Dr Zed Ngavirue as head of the Namibian delegation, and that this was non-negotiable. It now remains to be seen if the victim communities will accept this unmovable position of GRN, and what they will demand in return as a quid pro quo.
The representation of the diaspora was also discussed. The extermination orders of 1904/5 caused many Nama and OvaHerero people to flee the country.  Many of them fled to Botswana, South Africa and Angola. Many descendants of those that fled the country are now living in the USA and other Western countries. PC Rukoro mentioned the legal principle of “once and for all”, which requires that all losses arising from the same facts and course of action must be claimed once in one action. Thus, a settlement of this nature should not be done piecemeal. It must be settled once and for all. Thus, everyone, including those in the diaspora, with a legitimate genocide claim, must be given an opportunity to do it now, through a collective claim.
The diaspora can thus be included in the sub-delegation of the victim communities, either directly or via mandates or powers of attorney to appoint the locals as their proxies.  This will satisfy the once and for all principle. 
It is heart-warming to witness this type of event where Namibians are genuinely putting their heads and hearts together against a common enemy. Unfortunately, there are some Namibians who do not appreciate this new development. For instance, one prominent Namibian mentioned on social media that this whole exercise at State House was just about massaging the ego of certain individuals.  Really?  Mapara pas? We must appreciate that we have different views and approaches regarding the genocide, and the intentions of President Geingob and the leaders of the victim communities are to bridge these differences for the common good.
The good news is that the negotiations between GRN and the victim communities are not done yet.  The meeting was adjourned after almost three hours, and President Geingob indicated that the parties will re-convene next week, where an amicable solution will hopefully be crafted. This is a positive development that will show Germany that Namibians are serious about pursuing their genocide claims as a united front.
While the detailed modalities are yet to be finalised, it is worth celebrating the fact that President Geingob has in principle agreed to give the victim communities a seat and voice at the negotiating table. He also informed the meeting that negotiations proper with the Germans have not yet started; all that has happened so far is that GRN has submitted its demand to Germany. When, rather than if, an agreement is reached soon, the victim communities will take their rightful seats at the negotiating table at the most opportune moment in this great journey towards restorative justice.     
Ondjirio. Hijo


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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