By LENNOX FARRELL
On September 9, 2001, the Herero People’s Reparations Corporation of Namibia lodged a claim in a civil court in the U.S. District of Columbia. The claim was directed against the Federal Republic of Germany, then represented in the U.S. by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The claim was for ‘Crimes against Humanity, Slavery, Forced labour, Violations of International Law, and Genocide.’
What does this historic development have to do with the annual commemoration of the November 11
Remembrance Day, an occasion on which, with pomp, parades and prayers are remembered epochal events which augment convenient symbols of patriotism, and ignore those which are … inconvenient?
For some context and history, Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day, Poppy Day and Armistice Day, was first called into commemoration in 1919 by King George V. He had chosen November 7. This was to honour the date a year earlier when this global, four-year carnage had ended. In exhaustion.
The Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia, versus the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria (and Italy). These had ceased hostilities primarily out of sheer exhaustion. The Alliance was however more bloodied and bruised. Both sides were postponing hostilities for a more convenient time: World War II.
But returning to the beginning of the modern 20th Century, what in addition to World War II would follow World War I? And what had also preceded it? To answer, and especially regarding Africa, there were two events with global significance. One was the official ending between 1834 and 1865 of the four centuries’ African Slave Trade. The second, the 1885 Berlin Conference, occurring two decades after emancipation would allow Europeans to better coordinate their ‘Scramble for Africa'; already underway. And already the cause of dangerous updrafts in international tensions and conflicts.
In other words, having earlier stolen Africans from Africa, Europe was now embarked on stealing Africa from Africans. This keeping the peace policy of statecraft was designed by Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck and implemented at the colonial feeding frenzy of this Conference.
Thus, for example, Britain as its share of ‘the African Cake’, dutifully sliced off, among other choice pieces: Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. France’s share included Algeria, Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire.
In fact, Africa had for long not been a continent. It was regarded as a series of ‘coasts’. One had earlier been the Slave Coast. In this post-slavery dispensation, there were the Ivory Coast, the Gold Coast etc. This was to simplify for importers where would ivory and gold be most attainable for export.
And what were the accords from this conference to establish official protocols by which Europeans were to govern themselves, mutually colonizing Africa? The lingo might have gone like this: ‘Whatever you could capture and control, you keep. If you were in any danger any time of losing control to local rebellion, civilization would come, full force, to your aid. Also, as the controlling power, you do whatever you consider apt to making your Christianizing enterprise profitable. Finally, poaching on the areas sacred to other Europeans was a no-no. And could lead to war. Global war. World War I.
In the meantime, with all this free-for-all, other Europeans got busy, including weak, disrespected Italy. To be taken seriously by its European kith and kin, it also had to seize control of some African territory; territory still available for development by way of pillage.
Sadly, everything had already been appropriated. Except for Liberia and Ethiopia. Liberia was, however, an American off-shore enclave established for freed American slaves. It was definitely off the Imperial table.
Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, was another matter. There it was, a brazen African affront to Italian Imperial interests. And available. Italy, under General Oreste Baratieri, then Governor of Eritrea, launched the first of several Italo-Ethiopian Wars. At the 1886 Battle of Adwa, one year after the 1885 Berlin Conference, the Ethiopians under Emperor Menelik II, defeated, no, massacred, the better armed Italians. They captured and executed the Italian general. In Ethiopia, this battle is commemorated.
But back to the relationship between the commemoration of the first Remembrance Day after the first World War, and the 1885 Berlin Conference. The conference apparently postponed by several decades this global war.
Eventually, the postponement possibly proved as grievous in later carnage for Europe as the Berlin Conference had for Africa. Carnage in Europe was also caused by the advancements in newer, modern technology. These included tools for making war. As with today’s younger generation technically advanced but having less power, versus the older ones having more power but technically less savvy, this new technology unappreciated by the older generation for its impact on changing battle strategy, set the stage for vast carnage.
For example, tanks had replaced cavalry. Machine guns, first used against Canada’s First Nations during their rebellion supporting Louis Riel, outmatched rifles. Carnage was also inevitable because much of what Europeans had learned, practising on Africans – genocide, crimes against humanity – were eventually brought home to Europe. As Malcolm X once put it, ‘the chickens were come home to roost’.
In conclusion, who are the Hereros mentioned earlier?
They are a people from Namibia, a country in Southern Africa. The narrative of their remembrance, with particular reference to Germany, would go back at least to the 1885 Berlin Conference. Their lands had been ceded to Germany. The Hereros, taking up arms against German incursions, were to become disposable guinea pigs to the exact science of German experimentations.
According to a BBC documentary, ‘when the gates of the Nazi concentration camps were closed, more than fifteen million people had been exterminated. In the years since, Germany has come to terms with what occurred there. But what few people realize is that places like Auschwitz were not Germany’s first concentration camps; the holocaust was not Germany’s first genocide; (The first victims) not Jews and Gypsies.
And this genocide did not take place in Europe. (The victims) were Africans, killed at the dawn of the 20th century; killed in the concentration camps run by the armies of the Kaiser’s Second Reich 30 years before Hitler came to power. (Their bones) lie here, in what is the modern state of Namibia. It is a genocide still unacknowledged by Germany… (because) the dark racial history of Germany and Europe runs much deeper than many would admit…’
To remember is the first act of resistance.