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German President Offers Apology for Colonial Atrocities in Tanzania
President Steinmeier Expresses Shame and Seeks Forgiveness for Maji Maji Rebellion as Germany Confronts Its Dark Colonial Legacy
In a solemn address delivered during his visit to Songea, Tanzania, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed profound remorse for the colonial atrocities inflicted by his country on Tanzania. The atrocities in question transpired during the Maji Maji rebellion in the early 1900s, which stands as one of the bloodiest anti-colonial uprisings in history, resulting in the deaths of nearly 300,000 people.
President Steinmeier, while speaking at a local museum commemorating the historic uprising, made a heartfelt plea for forgiveness, stating, "I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here. What happened here is our shared history, the history of your ancestors and the history of our ancestors in Germany."
The Maji Maji rebellion was ignited by a German policy aimed at coercing the indigenous population to cultivate cotton for export. At that time, Tanzania was a part of German East Africa, encompassing present-day Rwanda, Burundi, and parts of Mozambique. President Steinmeier emphasized his hope for Tanzania and Germany to collaboratively confront their shared past and achieve a form of reconciliation. He assured the Tanzanian people that he would carry these stories back to Germany to raise awareness about this dark chapter in history.
Germany's acknowledgment of its colonial past is a relatively recent development, as it had long suffered from what historian Jürgen Zimmerer termed "colonial amnesia." Zimmerer, a professor at the University of Hamburg, noted that the brutality and racism of the German colonial empire were not well understood by the general public.
During his three-day visit, President Steinmeier also met with the descendants of Chief Songea Mbano, one of the leaders of the Maji Maji rebellion who was executed in 1906. Chief Songea Mbano is now regarded as a national hero in Tanzania. The president pledged the German authorities' assistance in locating his remains, part of a larger effort to locate and repatriate human remains that were brought from German colonies for various purposes, including "trophies" and racist research.
However, some believe that the president's apology does not go far enough. Tanzania historian Mohamed Said argued that the actions taken by German forces during the rebellion, such as setting farms on fire to starve the population, would be considered unacceptable and subject to legal consequences in today's world.
The German president's expression of remorse follows Germany's official acknowledgment of committing genocide during its occupation of Namibia in 2021, which also included financial aid worth more than €1.1 billion. In a similar vein, King Charles of the United Kingdom acknowledged the "abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence committed against Kenyans" during their fight for independence during his visit to Nairobi, although a formal apology would have to be determined by government ministers.