It has been called the first genocide of the 20th century, the “forgotten genocide’’ and the genocide that was the precursor of the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of Africans were killed between 1904 and 1908 by German soldiers in what is now Namibia, a vast, arid country northwest of South Africa.
German soldiers targeted people of two ethnic groups — the Herero and the Nama — because they had resisted land grabs by German settlers. Africans were shot, hanged, abandoned in the desert and died in concentration camps. Descendants of the Herero and Nama, marginalized groups within Namibia itself, kept alive the stories of their genocide through oral tradition and cultural events.
A push to recognize the genocide began after Namibia’s independence in 1990, and grew stronger with the 100th anniversary of the atrocities in 2004. In recent years — with researchers and left-leaning politicians pushing Germany to come to terms with its rarely examined colonial history — the process gained momentum.
While Germany indicated early on that it was ready to recognize the atrocities as a genocide, there was a stumbling block: money, not only the amount to be given, but what any payment would be called.
On Friday, Germany formally described the killings as a genocide, agreed to issue an apology and committed to providing $1.35 billion toward reconstruction and development projects. The Namibian government hailed the agreement, and some Namibians welcomed it.
But Herero and Nama leaders dismissed the deal as a “public relations coup” because it did not include funds deemed “reparations.”