Friday, April 10, 2015

Week Seven: Corruption in History: War or Genocide?

Winnie Godi and Jordan Wood
As fantastic as other weeks have been, week seven had an interesting twist of its own. During week seven, not only did we have the opportunity to listen to admirable speakers with resilient views and a wide range of experiences, but week seven also produced remarkable yet distressing discourses, leaving the students with feelings of confusion.

Topics encompassing historical conspiracies were discussed in prodigious detail. One historical period in Namibia examined, is years 1904-1908, the years of the German-Herero War. This period is one of extensive bereavement due to unforeseen circumstances. German soldiers were ordered to ethnically cleanse the Herero ethnic group of Namibia. Not only was an act of genocide committed against the indigenous peoples but this also became disremembered history or unacknowledged by many.

Evidently, some call the event the German-Herero war, while others call it the Herero Genocide. Although both titles are representative of the same thing and may be used interchangeably by many, in my opinion the ‘German-Herero war’ sugarcoats the realistic happenings. When one hears of war, they think of two sides fighting one another; of course this was the case at first, through acts of self-defense, but the title of ‘war’ became irrelevant when General Lothar Von Trothar ordered the killings and unlawful detainment of Hereros.

Independence Museum Display 
German influence is still tremendously relevant in Namibia, and one can clearly notice the economic and social disparities between whites and blacks with the naked eye. In Tuesday’s class, ‘Racism and Resistance in the United States and Southern Africa,’ we spoke about race relations in the United States in contrast and comparison to Southern Africa, leading to the discussion of history in education. In Namibia, many do not acknowledge the genocide of the Herero’s, Germans and Namibians both. Those who do are making significant efforts to establish a reconciliation committee to benefit those who are affected by this atrocity. The lack of education about a nation’s full history is a common reoccurring concern across the world. Often times we find that the history relayed to the public and taught in schools is the history of the ‘dominant race, the victors, or from a Western perspective’ in this case are the Germans.

Immediately after this deliberation, we received a speaker, Professor Kerina, known for naming Namibia and also acclaimed for being politically active in the liberation struggle, as well as conducting negotiations with Germany in hopes of reconciliation for those affected by the genocide. Throughout his presentation he continued to reiterate how the Herero genocide was buried for hundreds of years in Namibia until educated Namibians who received education abroad learned about the genocide.

Kerina officiated trials held at the United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C. against primary actors who violated Herero human rights. This required gathering of evidence, in which skulls of Herero’s were discovered in homes in Germany, which were returned to Namibia when asked, yet Germany is still hesitant to fully participate in reconciliation efforts according to Kerina; if Germany is hesitant and if the majority of German citizens unacknowledged the genocide, who shall be held accountable? Meanwhile, a student concocted a very important question, “Why should African countries run to the United States as a savior?” Kerina answered, “Because there is a lot that Africa can learn from the United States.” Without delay, I disagreed mentally. The United States has had a countless number of problems addressing their own issues regarding national reconciliation and the underrepresentations of communities of color in history as well as other aspects. So how does one go about addressing the underrepresentations of communities of color? Through altering education. Both the United States and Namibia need to make significant efforts in altering history in education and without that first step, both countries will remain socially and economically unequal for people of color.

Discussing atrocities such as the Herero genocide often leads to important theoretical discussions defining, explaining, and expanding such atrocities. An important theoretical approach expanding the discussion of the Herero genocide involves the notion of complicitous accountability. Complicitous accountability, in the context of this discussion, refers to the degree of responsibility citizens have in genocides. While state actors and its decision makers hold direct responsibility, citizens play a role that should not be denied. Thus, complicitous accountability can be considered a form of critique and direct action by citizens. This term evokes a sense of consciousness, or an awareness of actions concerning governments, while engaging in a critical analysis of those actions. Examining complicitous accountability, arguably, is limited analytically to democracies and democratic principles. Adhering to complicitous accountability involves individuals, groups, and the whole society transforming power structures that allow genocides to occur.

While the brutality of the Holocaust is well known, the genocide of the Herero people in the German-Herero War by the Germans is less known. However, the connections between the two genocides should not be denied. The interconnectedness of the Herero genocide and the Holocaust, though, is debated. It’s argued that many ideas communicated through various methods during the Herero genocide influenced the philosophies and methods of the Nazi regime. The discussion of genocidal ideas, during the Herero genocide, through public documents and speeches results in the complicitous accountability of German citizens during this time. While it would be foolish to state the complicitous accountability of Germans during this era would change the outcomes of the Holocaust, complicitous accountability may have influenced the results. If the German people discussed the genocide of the Herero people in depth, with public debate, counter ideas of anti-genocidal actions could have arisen. Public opinion certainly influences both domestic and foreign policy. If enough Germans opposed the actions of General Lothar Von Trothar, it is conceivable that the events of the Herero genocide, and possibly the Holocaust, could have been influenced in some manner.

While the German government acknowledges and apologized for the Herero genocide, this action is insufficient for the atrocities that occurred. To “right” past wrongs, if such an idea indeed exists, should occur. The complicitous accountability of German citizens in the insufficient and delayed response to the Herero genocide should ensue. While addressing genocide in regards to complicitous accountability is unambiguous, possible solutions could be fruitful. For example, while reparations do not make up for the atrocities committed, it does give a slight sense of justice and further acknowledgment of wrongdoing. However, some criticisms of reparations include the perpetuation of the victim-perpetrator narrative but this could be counteracted. In addition, another possible solution is to establish a meaningful relationship with the Herero people. This could include economic assistance under the complete understanding and approval of the Herero people. A meaningful relationship could also include promoting political power, since the Herero people could be considered a disenfranchised minority group within Namibia.

Overall, this week was quite thought provoking. Discussions revolving around the Native American genocide, the dangers of a single narrative, the myth of multiculturalism in the United States, criticisms of academic discourse on the Herero and Native American genocides, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of being an aware person ensued. This semester has been a challenging yet rewarding learning atmosphere thus far and I’m excited to continue the trend!
Sculpture demonstrating breaking of chains from imprisonment. 
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