Contradictions of a Legitimate Claim: The Negotiation Process about the Consequences of Genocide between Namibia and Germany.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Reinhart KÖSSLER, Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut, Freiburg, Germany
The ongoing process of negotiations between the governments of Namibia and Germany about the consequences of the colonial genocide of 1904-1908 in what was then German Southwest Africa reveals a range of dimensions in a postcolonial and transnational relationship. These concern conflicts both between the former metropole and its former colony and within the Namibian postcolony. Chief among these are the issue of representation at the conference table and the demand for reparations. While the latter is opposed by German diplomacy and is uncontroversial in Namibia, the demand of victim groups for an autonomous role in the negotiations challenges the claim of the postcolonial state to represent its entire population. Victim groups claim to be treated as indigenous and minority peoples which is denied by the Namibian government. This might be considered an expression of internal colonialism. These rifts are articulated in divergent narratives of the anti-colonial resistance and liberation struggle, as set forth by the state on the one hand and the dissidents on the other. However, a critical appraisal of the exigencies faced by postcolonial states needs is also called for, since according to the discourse of failed states, avoidance of such classification necessitates precisely the fulfilment of the territorial principle.

In a wider perspective, issues of nationalism and statism need to be considered, since these entail a preoccupation with control and unity that may be discerned, both in the actions of the Namibian state in connection with the genocide negotiations and in representations of national history it has recently commissioned. On the other hand, victim communities’ practices of mobilisation and memory enter an transnational arena, not least with direct appeals to a German public.