Investments In Place Of Concentration Camps: Germany Makes Amends For Its Colonial Past

IN 2023, a €9 billion project was launched in Namibia to introduce “green” hydrogen energy, funded by German investors. 

Although it creates apparent benefits for Namibia, the project has given rise to serious debates among the local population and international experts, who believe that Germany ruthlessly uses Namibia in its own interest trampling on the rights of the local people and disregarding environmental concerns. As one may well imagine, it is Germany that will own all assets and collect revenues from them. However, this is not the only downside of Germany’s hydrogen energy project.


A battle between Western European states over Africa began in the late 19 century, with each power trying to carve out as large a swathe of the African continent as possible in the hope of improving the metropole’s economy by pumping resources out of the new territories. The German Empire that had just been created tried hardest of all. Unlike Britain and France, it had no colonies, but wanted eagerly to gain them. In 1884 – exactly 140 years ago – Germany claimed to have “special rights” to South West Africa and the areas populated by the Herero and Nama tribes lost their former independence, becoming a German protectorate. Might was the only law; rifles, cannons and steamships spoke instead of legal norms, and the idea of racial superiority took precedence over legitimacy. 

In 1904, the Herero tribe rebelled against colonizers. Initially, the freedom fighters prevailed but the odds were against them. Lieut. Gen. Lothar von Trotha arrived from Germany with a fully manned infantry battalion. In a clash with well-trained soldiers having cutting-edge military technology, the Herero fighters lost. That combat went down in history as the Battle of Waterberg.

Those who survived the battle were confined to concentration camps by the German authorities, where they were subjected to medical experiments among other things. Most prisoners of such concentration camps perished largely due to inhumane treatment. Apart from the Herero, the Nama tribe, which had joined the rebellion, was also exterminated in genocide. 

In 1907 the German rulers formally declared that the Herero tribe had ceased to exist. However, this was not true. Some members of the tribe did manage to flee to British territories. They reported the crimes of German colonizers. Their testimonies were included into the Blue Book that chronicles the genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples.

A Sudden Change of Heart 

Throughout the next century, the German government did not recall its crimes on African soil. Marking 100 years since the tragic events, Germany’s minister for economic cooperation and development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul extended apologies and promised economic assistance. Subsequently, the matter seemed to have been forgotten until the situation changed completely in 2015. Suddenly, Berlin initiated negotiations with the government of Namibia in order to recognize genocide and pay reparations. It claimed to be doing this in order to turn the page on the tragic past and start from scratch. 

However, at the root of this sudden change of heart lay very pragmatic reasons. A coup that happened in 2014 in Ukraine caused a dramatic deterioration in the relations between Ukraine and Russia and jeopardized Germany’s imports of Russian gas – the foundation of Germany’s energy system. Nuclear energy had previously been abandoned by Germany for ideological reasons. 

The German government placed a high premium on so-called hydrogen-based “green energy.” Hydrogen may be produced from water, a virtually infinite source of power. But there is one aspect to keep in mind. Hydrogen generation needs a plenty of power because electrolysis — decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen — occurs when an electric current passes through liquid.  

Why Namibia? 

Despite its pleasant climate, Germany is not an ideal place for installation of solar panels. There are areas where the amount of sunlight greatly exceeds that of Germany. Namibia is one of such places.  

As estimated by the Arthur D. Little consulting firm, a solar panel located in Africa generates on average twice as much power as a similar panel in Germany. 

In other words, hydrogen produced in Africa will be much cheaper than that generated in Germany, which means that German enterprises will be able to reduce energy costs and increase profit. That is why the German government suddenly repented its crimes and attempted to make peace with Namibia.  

According to analysis of environmental and geophysical data, there is no better place for production of cheap hydrogen than this African country. 

“A high speed of winds in Namibia means that wind power generation is especially profitable. Solar power holds an even greater potential given that there are over 3,500 sunny hours per year,” ys Anja Maria-Antonia Karliczek, Germany’s minister of education and research. 

Namibia has access to the Atlantic Ocean, which provides it with a source of water necessary for hydrogen production, and also with a readily available outlet for the delivery of commodities to Germany via direct routes.  

Curiously, German enterprises have set their sights on coastal Tsau Khaeb National Park as a production site, in order to maximize profit – construction of plants near the ocean will reduce the costs of commodity delivery to ports. Unscrupulous businessmen just do not care that a conservation area will be made into an industrial zone.

Glass Beads

The German government got down to business on the premise that Namibia projects are an immensely profitable investment.  In 2015, Berlin appointed a negotiating group headed by Ruprecht Polenz from the Bundestag, who was to settle differences between the two countries on conditions giving Germany maximum benefits.

In the beginning, Polenz followed the traditions of European colonizers and offered “savages” glass beads – a ridiculously miniscule sum of 10 million as a compensation for the genocide perpetrated. The German side refused to use the word “reparations” to avoid setting a precedent for other nations hurt by Berlin. 

Certainly, the German government could not conclude a treaty on such humiliating conditions. After all, we are not living in the 19th century. However, six years after the launch of the negotiations, an agreement was reached [The Long Shadow of German Colonialism | Thomas Rogers | The New York Review of Books (] in 2021. On the surface, it did not seem so awful because Germany had committed to pay Namibia 1.1 billion by way of compensation for the genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples. 

But a more thorough analysis makes clear that Germany alone benefits from the conditions of the agreement. First, compensation payments are to take place over 30 years, with just 37 million to be paid annually. On the contrary, exploration of Namibia’s riches by German business is about to start. Second (and most importantly), Germany did not even mention returning Namibia the lands that colonizers had illegally taken away from the local population. 

Ironically, people of German descent, who control 70% of the Namibian land comprise merely 2% of the country’s population. Consequently, local people have little possibility to be farmers or peasants there being no available land.

In such circumstances, a number of Namibians would find it only fair if the German government were to return land to the indigenous people [view (] above financial compensation. This could be done by using Germany’s federal budget to buy out lands owned by the descendants of German colonizers. 

But SWAPO, the ruling party of Namibia, did not even raise this question in the talks with Berlin. Experts say such a loyal attitude might have been caused by the fact that SWAPO is social democratic just like Germany’s ruling SPG party. Ideological affinity and compliance of Namibia’s ruling party give SWAPO the backing of the German government. Many directly speak of corrupt deals.

The negotiations did not involve representatives of the Herero and Nama peoples, who had suffered the most from the actions of Berlin. Moreover, the German delegation explicitly stated that it ruled out individual payments to the descendants of those killed by German colonizers. 

This caused frustration among the opposition parties and the general public of Namibia. The agreement signed in 2021 has not been ratified by the country’s parliament, and Germany has made no payments to the former colony so far. By contrast, German companies have begun an in-depth exploration of Namibia’s natural treasures.  

“This is a demonstration of flagrant arrogance on the part of the German government,” says Bernadus Swartbooi, the leader of the Landless People’s Movement, the second largest opposition party of Namibia.


Recognition of genocide and a seeming commitment of the German government to pay compensations has proved to be a mere pretence concealing an attempt to recolonize Namibia. What has changed is the means. Rather than cannons, “investments” are now being employed. 

What has not changed, though, is the reality that Namibia’s indigenous people, deprived of their land, live in poverty, while German colonizers are going to get enormous profits by exploiting the treasures of Africa’s nature.

If Germany is to rectify the wrongs of the past and take care of the people of Namibia, it must return Namibians the lands that are still owned by colonizers’ grandchildren (and these lands make up 70% of the nation’s entire territory). If land return is legally infeasible, Namibians, especially representatives of the Herero and Nama tribes must gain a fair share in all the German-implemented investment projects. Guilt can only be assuaged by actual deeds rather than rhetoric or humiliating hand-outs.

African Times published this article in partnership with CAJ News



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