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Tanzanians Seek More Than Words After Germany’s Apology for Colonial Atrocities

Earlier this month, Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in Tanzania, where he issued a historic apology for the atrocities committed by his country during its colonial rule over the African nation.

“I want to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your forefathers,” Steinmeier said at a solemn ceremony at the Maji Maji Memorial Museum in Tanzania’s southern Songea district.

He uttered the words standing before the graves of Chief Songea Mbano and 66 other Ngoni tribal leaders, who were executed by German colonial forces during the Maji Maji Rebellion from 1905 to 1907.

This marked the first time a German head of state publicly acknowledged the country’s colonial-era brutalities, but there were certain key elements missing from his speech, such as the issue of reparations, compensation and the return of human remains.

Haji Abdulkarim, a descendant of a local chief who was killed in 1906, described the horrors his great-grandfather witnessed before his own execution.

After the hangings, the bodies of at least 60 victims were dragged and buried in a mass grave, he said, citing historical accounts.

“It was an act of sheer brutality to kill people as if they were hens,” Abdulkarim told Anadolu.

The rebellion started as a peasant revolt but transformed into an uprising that brought together different ethnic groups and enveloped most parts of the territory then known as Tanganyika, comprising the mainland part of present-day Tanzania.

At its core lay a belief propagated by Kinjekitile Ngwale, a fiery prophetic leader, who spoke of an apparently sacred liquid that could repel German bullets.

He called it Maji Maji, which literally translates to “sacred water,” and said it could turn bullets into water.

Seated under the shade of a giant baobab tree, Abdulkarim, now 89, narrated how his great-grandfather and other tribal warriors armed with spears and arrows doused in Maji Maji water went out to challenge the German forces.

“They paid the ultimate price to reject colonial oppression,” he said.

“There was nothing magical in the water, but just that belief greatly helped imbue in them a fighting spirit.”

‘Just words mean nothing’

The rebellion, however, was brutally crushed by the Germans, who had killed thousands of Maji Maji warriors – 75,000 according to some estimates – by 1907.

“The Germans acted with extreme brutality, killing so many people,” Yusufu Lawi, a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, told Anadolu.

Memories of those brutalities are still with Tanzanians, who say that Germany’s apology alone is not enough.

“They should also return the skulls and remains of Tanzanian chiefs that they took away,” said Zaituni Mkenda, a local resident of Songea.

“We should have the chance to bury our ancestors with the respect they deserve.”

Another issue is reparations and financial compensation for colonialism and its related atrocities.

“Just words mean nothing to us,” said Mkenda.

“The apology will have no meaning if the families do not get financial compensation for the pain caused by the colonizers.”

Ladislaus Komba, a student at the University of Dodoma, hailed the apology as a welcome first step.

“I think it is a good thing. It will help heal the wounds and address the grievances of our communities,” he said.

However, Komba too stressed the need for socioeconomic justice, saying Germany has to do more to give better lives to the descendants of people who suffered at its hands.

Lawi, the history professor, emphasized the importance of the Maji Maji Rebellion as a crucial step toward Africans breaking free from the shackles of colonialism.

The revolt sowed the seeds for future nationalist movements against colonial rule, fostering “a sense of identity and solidarity among the oppressed” across the continent, he said.

Source : AA