Note 5: Namibia: European Genocide against the Herero. 3/21/99

Todd Bensman, reporting in the Dallas Morning News (3/20/99), has documented a German campaign of genocide against the Namibian Herero tribe that began in 1904 and ended in 1915 in which as many as 80.000 natives were murdered by German troops under the leadership of Lt. General Lothar von Trotha, who had already made a name for himself in conducting brutal campaigns against African natives in German East Africa. His tactics in Namibia consisted of driving the Herero people into the Omaheke desert, where all the waterholes had been poisoned, and then surrounded the area with his troops with orders to kill every man, woman, and child, "whether armed or unarmed." After the initial slaughter, the remaining Herero, approximately 20,000 people, were forced into slave labor on German farms. Bensman suggests in his article that this episode in Africa was a harbinger of the genocidical attempt to exterminate the Jews during the Second World War.

The issue of European genocide in Africa has arisen recently because the "Paramount Chief" of the Herero people, Kuaima Rirauko, has been pressing the German government for reparations for the surviving members of the tribe. Rirauko claims his ten-year struggle for recognition of Germany's responsibility for the near annihilation of his people has fallen on deaf ears in both Europe and America. The Germans themselves claim they have done all that is necessary for the people of Namibia because they have contributed some $500 million since 1992 for the economic development of the African nation, which is more per capita than any other former colony of Eurocentric exploitation in Africa has received. Rirauko claims, in pressing his demands against the German government for reparations, that virtually all the money Germany has invested in the country has gone to the Ovambo tribe, who are more numerous and more prosperous than the Herero people are. Since the Ovambo people control Namibia's political apparatus, and never revolted against Germany's colonial government, Rirauko's claims are probably valid.

Bensman, in discussing the issue of why Europe and America have turned a deaf ear to the appeals of the Hereros for justice, introduces us to Lora Wildenthal, a professor of Germany history at MIT, who has said that, according to Bensman, "one reason no European power seems eager to take up the Herero cause is fear that a pay-off would invite multitudes of similar claims for colonial-era crimes." Wildenthal adds to that assessment, "Imagine what Britain would owe."

Yes indeed, just imagine how much money it would cost the British people to repay the value of the land the first settlers in native America seized from the tribes that occupied the northeastern part of the New World. Of course, England would deny that it owed anything at all to the native Americans, or their contemporary descendants, who were displaced and driven from their ancestral lands by the greed of Eurocentric expansion into the Western hemisphere. Statute of Limitations notwithstanding, a legal concept that would surely be employed in today's system of (in)justice to prevent any action from being lodged against the civilized world, the English legal system would immediately claim that they were released from all obligation for the initial theft of native lands by virtue of the fact that their own colonists revolted against the British crown in 1776, successfully removed themselves from England forever when they won their War of Independence, and established their own legal system apart from its European soul-mate and model in the Old World. Who can argue against that kind of logic? The French would escape responsibility as well by claiming that they sold out their complicity in Eurocentric genocide when they relinquished all claims to the western territories by selling Louisiana to Euro-America in 1803. The Spanish could fabricate a similar argument by claiming that the Americans seized their southwestern territories in the War that established Texas as an independent nation in 1848. The northwestern part of the continent (Northern hemisphere) fell victim to American expansionism during this same period of time.

So, Europe, after virtually destroying native cultures in the Americas, walks away from all responsibility without a backward glance or a second thought. There is a significant difference after all between what the British, French, and Spanish crowns did to native Americans in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries and what they did after that in Africa, India, and Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Demanding reparations for five-hundred-year-old crimes, when Europe refuses to acknowledge the ones it has committed in this century, seems like the most hopeless task any human community has ever confronted. The task seems so hopeless, in fact, that no native American tribe has ever considered pursuing it. The question that occurs to me when I contemplate this historical reality is whether or not a Statute of Limitations can be said to exist when the crime committed was genocide. Is the forced removal of a people from their ancestral lands, a removal that resulted in the brutal and ruthless deaths of thousands of incarcerated people, a reservation is a prison after all, something that can be forgiven just because it happened two hundred or five hundred years ago?

And why are Euro-Americans considered to be guiltless in the eyes of international law for the injustices they have committed against native Americans? As for the inevitable argument that the people living today are not responsible for the fate that befell native Americans three hundred years ago, one must explain while making it why it is that native Americans are still confined on reservations, treated as fourth or fifth class citizens, and systematically denied the rights and privileges that fall to all white people in America. And that isn't really the issue either. The issue is held in the fact that all the material benefit that Euro-Americans have derived from the land their ancestors illegally seized from native Americans from 1492 to the present moment have never been shared with the people to whom it rightfully belongs, the benefit has always already remained in the possession of the descendants of thieves and murderers. What clause in which treaty that the US government ever contracted with a native American tribe justifies the fact that the descendants of thieves and murderers get to keep the exploited wealth derived from thievery and murder?

The thing that astonishes me the most is the belief Euro-Americans have that they are the rightful heirs to the ancestral lands of native American people, that all the centuries of Eurocentric exploitation somehow justifies the fact that the land their ancestors claimed for the crowns of Europe and stole from the original inhabitants of the entire hemisphere belongs to them in perpetuity, that there will never be a day of reckoning, that no one will ever be held accountable for the mass-murder, for the forced and illegal incarceration, for the on-going destruction of the lives of native American people.

The day of judgment will come, not from a vengeful God, not in some non-existent afterlife, but in the here and now present moment of the last day of your life. We will (re)claim what is ours, doing so is the only way to save it from the annihilation demanded by your Christian God and the belief you harbor that all natural reality is evil and deserving of death. You will waste the land you cannot comprehend out from under your own future generations and they, like you have done before them, will blow away in the wind of their own insatiable greed and ignorance. We are content to wait out your passage. Do as you have always done in your disrespect for our land and be gone.

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