Deeply embedded in the battle for land and pastoral hegemony, the first genocide of the 20th century— Namibia's Herero and Nama tribes by the Germans—continues to escape public scrutiny RAJAT GHAI
EVEN THE pope got it wrong on this one. On April 11, 2015, Pope Francis recalled the widespread massacres of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the Great War by calling it “the first genocide of the 20th Century”. A week later, Anglo-Nigerian historian, David Olusoga, writing for The Guardian, pointed out that the pope’s description was simply incorrect. That grim distinction belongs to the genocide that imperial Germany unleashed a decade earlier on the ethnic tribes, Herero and Nama, in the former colony of South West Africa, today’s Namibia.
That genocide resulted in the systematic extermination of 110,000 Herero and Nama tribal people. The German government, after 112 years, is only now beginning to acknowledge the “genocide”. A Transnational Congress on Genocide—organised by the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu Genocide Foundation along with German non-profits—took place in Berlin on October 14-15 this year. But Germany has so far refused to consider any reparation.
Genesis of the genocide
Though the Namibian coast was visited by many European explorers since the 15th and 18th centuries, they did not colonise it because the coastal desert—the Namib—acted as a deterrent. Instead, they headed north
A photograph taken in 1907 of the Herero tribe who were forced to live in the desert and died of starvation