German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has issued an apology for the grave atrocities committed during the colonial period in Tanzania, promising to enlighten his country about these past injustices and work towards collective healing.
During his visit to the Maji Maji Museum in Songea, Tanzania, Steinmeier expressed his regret and sought forgiveness, stating, “I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here. I want to assure you that we Germans will search with you for answers to the unanswered questions that give you no peace.”
The German colonial era in Tanzania was marked by harsh oppression, and the Maji Maji Rebellion from 1905 to 1907 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 indigenous people.
In response to these dark chapters, Steinmeier proposed a “communal processing” of the past, aiming to bring the stories of the past to Germany for wider recognition.
A significant gesture was made as Steinmeier paid homage at the grave of Chief Songea Mbano, a notable figure from the colonial resistance, referring to him as a “brave leader.”
John Mbano, a descendant of Chief Songea, expressed his appreciation of the German president’s gesture, hoping for a strengthened relationship between Tanzania and Germany, saying, “We have been crying for years, now it is the time to end our crying.”
The German approach to historical remembrance has predominantly focused on World War II crimes.
However, there has been a recent shift towards acknowledging colonial-era wrongdoings, including those in Tanzania and Namibia. The country’s actions against Nigeria’s Herero and Nama people in the early 20th century are considered by many historians as the century’s first genocide.
Germany reached an understanding with Namibia in 2021, recognizing the colonial massacres as genocide and providing redress, albeit without formal reparations.
This agreement, however, is still pending official approval amid concerns from representative groups of the Herero and Nama communities.
Additionally, Berlin’s Museum of Prehistory and Early History has been investigating approximately 1,100 skulls looted from former German East Africa, now encompassing Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.
In a major discovery, researchers have identified living relatives of individuals whose skulls were taken to Germany.
Similar to Germany’s apology, several Western countries in recent years have also expressed regret for atrocities committed during their colonial rule.
In 2020, Belgian King Philippe expressed his “deepest regrets” for the violence and suffering inflicted on the Democratic Republic of Congo during Belgium’s colonial rule.
In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that France bears “overwhelming responsibilities” for the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, during which an estimated 800,000 people were killed.
In 2020, the Dutch government apologized for its role in the slave trade and the mistreatment of enslaved people in its former colony of Suriname.
In 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron described the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in India as a “deeply shameful event,” during which British troops killed hundreds of unarmed civilians.”