Is compensation enough?


FORMER colonial powers, that claim to be champions of observance of human rights, have strangely persistently refused to apologise for the atrocities and genocide they committed in their former colonies in Africa. 

Germany, Britain, France and Belgium are some of the Western powers that have been accused of committing genocide or conniving with genocidal forces.

Reports that Germany recently conceded that it had committed genocide in Namibia is a welcome development.

A Namibian Government spokesperson has described it as ‘a first step in the right direction’. But mind you, this was after five years of negotiations for the Germans to realise the obvious. 

What is rather disappointing is the meagre US$1,3 billion compensation spread over 30 years the Germans offered Namibia.

Suffice to note that this US$1,3 billion is a drop in the ocean compared to the vast resources looted out of Namibia by the former colonial power.

No wonder the chairman of the Namibian Genocide Association is justified in dismissing the compensation as being not enough vis-a-vis their losses.

Indeed it is heart-rending to recall how the Germans decimated the indigenes of Namibia.

When the Herero and Nama people rebelled against colonial rule, thousands were massacred in what is described as ‘the forgotten genocide’ of the early 20th Century.

For the Germans, their collective punishment was indiscriminate, so long as the victims were black. Many more perished of dehydration, starvation, exhaustion and sexual abuse when they were driven into a desert and placed in concentration camps. 

And today, we hear a lot about the Jews’ concentration camps in Germany but nothing at at all about those who perished in ‘the forgotten genocide’ in the concentration camps in the Namib Desert.  

It boggles the mind that it took five years of negotiations for the Germans to accept the heinous crimes they committed between 1904 and 1908. No doubt these are some of the historical landmarks that led to the formation of Black Lives Matter Movement.  

Thousands more died in Kenya, this time at the hands of the British, when the indigenes rebelled against colonial rule through the Mau Mau Uprising.

Over a million Kenyans were locked up in concentration camps as they protested dispossession of their land.

We wonder how many of those who know of the concentration camps in Germany are also aware of the ones used by the British to house Kenyans.

Here, they were beaten, starved, castrated and tortured to death, with the killings continuing with post war executions in a genocide Kenyans will take long to recover from.

It had to take the intervention of the courts for these so-called champions of human rights to acknowledge the torturing and murder of Kenyans by the British. 

The courts ordered the payment of 20 million British pounds as compensation.

Just over 5 000 Kenyans benefitted  from the compensation when three Mau Mau veterans took the British Government to court. 

But what is 20 million pounds in a Kenyan population of over    50 million?

The genocide did not affect only the direct victims, but the whole country.

After all, to seek legal technicalities to absolve oneself of such naked brutality is an insult.  

Initially, their feeble argument was that the crimes were the responsibility of the colonialists and not the British Government per se.

They are said to have ‘sincerely regretted’ the genocide but fell short of an outright apology.

That was the same stance of French President Emmanuel Macron when he visited Rwanda last week.

Here, the French are accused of having connived with the Burundian President in the genocide that saw the death of over 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

While Macron asked for forgiveness from the Rwandese, he denied that his country was an accomplice in the genocide.

And yet there is a host of evidence that implicate their direct involvement in this sad chapter of the Rwandese history. 

The Belgians also have a case to answer. 

Between 1885 and 1908, in the Congo Free State (now DRC), atrocities related to the labour policies of King Leopold 11 decimated the population of the indigenes.

During this time, Congo was under the personal rule of this heartless Belgian king whose ambition was to build a fortune using the labour of the Congolese.

Atrocities and social disruption gave way to a number of epidemics, which included sleeping sickness and smallpox.

This was the king’s modus operandi as he turned the lives of indigenes into a nightmare.

This had a disastrous effect on the population of the Congo, with estimates of deaths ranging between 10-15 million.

If this is not genocide, then we wonder what else it is!

To date, Belgium has not even uttered a word of apology, probably because its victims were black Africans.

We have our own Zimbabwe, where heads of our heroes, including that of heroine Mbuya Nehanda, were chopped off for resisting colonial rule and sent to Britain as trophy for the monarch.

And to add salt to injury, the British are not willing to apologise, let alone return the skulls.

A detailed release of the atrocities by the British colonialists in Zimbabwe should, however, be a narrative for another day

The net effect of all this is to leave a sour taste in the mouths of Africans.

The least these former colonial powers can do to ameliorate the enduring pain among victims of their atrocities and genocide is to apologise unreservedely.

True, there have been compensations, like what the Germans intend to do in Namibia and what the British were forced to do, by law, to a few Kenyans.

In the spirit of reconciliation, this might be seen as a token of remorse.

But is it enough?

Neither the Namibian nor the Kenyan victims are saying so.

Indeed, it is not easy to measure worthiness of human life in terms of money.

We relive some of the atrocities carried out by our former colonial powers not to open old wounds; rather, we are appealing to the conscience of the perpetrators (if they have any)  in the hope that perhaps we may get belated sincere apologies.

Just the realisation and unreserved admission that what they did was a crime against humanity is, indeed, a positive step towards genuine reconciliation.  

But when former colonial powers like France, Britain and Belgium are reluctant to acknowledge and apologise, then it will be very difficult for the victims to forgive, let alone forget.


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