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Germany Officially Recognizes It Committed Genocide In Present-Day Namibia

BERLIN – Germany is formally recognizing that its killing of tens of thousands of people belonging to two ethnic groups more than a century ago in present-day Namibia was a genocide.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced the recognition on Friday, saying "in light of Germany's historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness."

He added that Germany will support Namibia and the victims' descendants with more than $1.3 billion for reconstruction and development.

From about 1884 to 1915, Germany occupied several territories in Africa. Its colony in German South West Africa, in what is now Namibia, was established to provide more territory for its people, a campaign called Lebensraum. At the time, German urban areas were overcrowded due to a population boom.

After settlers seized their land and cattle, ethnic Herero and Nama people launched a rebellion against their occupiers. German soldiers killed tens of thousands of them between 1904 and 1908. Survivors were forced into the desert and later placed in concentration camps where they were exploited for labor.

Many died of disease and starvation, some after being used for medical experiments. It's estimated that 80% of the Indigenous populations of the Herero and Nama died during the genocide.

In 1985, a U.N. report on genocide included the killings, but it wasn't until Friday that the German government began using the same language.

The recognition comes after nearly six years of negotiations between the German and Namibian governments. Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France had a duty to confront history and to recognize its part in the suffering it inflicted on the people of Rwanda.

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Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.