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Germany Formally Acknowledges Colonial Genocide In Namibia, Will Pay Reparations

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Germany today apologized for a genocide - in this case, the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in the African nation of Namibia. The killings came during the colonial era, when German troops stamped out an uprising in Namibia by almost wiping out two tribes. And in France earlier this week, the government admitted to bear some responsibility for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Joining us to talk about these developments is NPR Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. Welcome back.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So to start, why did Germany say now was the time for this acknowledgement?

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, look; this is a long time coming. Germany and the government of Namibia have been negotiating this for five years. But as you alluded to in your intro, there is, you know, quite a bit of introspection happening on the continent of Africa and in Europe. You know, people and governments are trying to come to terms with the brutality of colonialism. You know, critics say that Germany and other European countries are looking at African countries as an emerging market, and that might be the reason for this apology.

CORNISH: I want to come back to what amends might look like, but first, a little bit of the history. What happened during this uprising? When was this?

PERALTA: Yeah, so as you mentioned, it happened more than a hundred years ago, from 1904 to 1908. And Germany was the colonial power in control of Namibia, and there was a rebellion by the Herero and the Nama tribes, and the German government reacted viciously. They took land and cattle. And many Herero and Nama people were taken to concentration camps in the Kalahari Desert, and many of them died of starvation there. In the end, scholars estimate that about 80% of the Herero and Nama people were killed during this period.

CORNISH: What's been the reaction to the government's plans to offer a billion dollars to help reconstruction and development in Namibia as part of this acknowledgement?

PERALTA: Tribal leaders, you know, say that this is a deal between two governments and that it doesn't really solve the big problems. They say that this will not lead to reconciliation. And the big sticking point is that they wanted individual reparations - you know, for example, they wanted the German government to buy land from the people of German descent and then return it to the descendants of the victims of this genocide. You know, activists say that the Herero and the Nama people are living in poor conditions, that they live in crowded, informal settlements. And a redistribution of land, they say - that that could actually lead to a real reconciliation and to a real change in the way that the Herero and the Nama people are living.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, can we talk about France admitting to having responsibility in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda? At that time, 800,000 people were killed. What's being said there?

PERALTA: Yeah, so President Macron stopped short of issuing an apology on behalf of France, but this is still big news. This has been a source of tension between Rwanda and France because President Paul Kagame, who halted the genocide - his forces stopped the genocide - always saw France as being complicit because they stood by the genocidal regime, and like other Western countries, they failed to stop the slaughter of Tutsis. But a lot like what is happening with Germany and Namibia, France ordered an investigation. They opened up their archives. And, you know, they have officially admitted that they bore, quote, "overwhelming responsibility" for the genocide. And this week, the leaders of both countries stood side by side, and they said that this marked a new chapter in their relationship.

CORNISH: And that's NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. Thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.