NEW YORK—Descendants of Namibia’s Herero tribe, which was nearly exterminated under German colonial rule between 1904 and 1908, are now asking for reparations from the German government for what they considered was the first genocide in history.

In the early 1900s, following the colonial scramble for Africa, German colonial forces executed tens of thousands of Herero and Nama tribe members in what Europeans called South-West Africa (now Namibia). The systematic killings began after the colonial army suppressed an uprising from the local tribes, forcing them into forced labor camps where many died of starvation.

Herero activists first brought forward the lawsuit against the German government in January of 2017 in New York City. A year later, the descendants of the victims are still waiting for reparations and formal apologies from Germany, which has acknowledged the genocide but hasn’t issued any official response to the lawsuit.

As the New Yorker reported, some of the victims’ remains are still kept in Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History, which bought them for anthropological research in the 1920s. A delegation of Herero descendants payed a visit to the museum last September, just to see their ancestors’ bones piled up in cardboard boxes (the bones are not on display). The activists are now deciding whether to push for a public exhibit of the remains, which would raise awareness of the tribe’s neglected history, or else lobby for the bones’ repatriation to Namibia.  

Other former German colonies such as Tanzania, Cameroon and Togo could follow Namibia’s lead and ask for similar compensations to Germany, the Deutsche Welle speculated.

Photo: Opuwo, Northern Namibia / Carsten ten Brink (2016). Licensed under Creative Commons.

Posted by Anna Pazos

Journalist from Barcelona currently based in NYC. She has lived in Thessaloniki, Jerusalem, and a sailing boat.

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