To see the new trajectory, you need only look at the routes of German politicians in the past year. The Minister of Defense, Boris Pistoriusspent a week last month in Asia, with stops in Singapore, Indonesia and India. India was a particular focus: Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first world leaders hosted by Mr. Scholz, and they have met frequently since then. Together with the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, Mr. Scholz also spent considerable time in Africa. In extensive visit to the continent in May of last year, he discussed – among other things – a gas agreement with Senegal.
The German delegations, for the most part, were warmly welcomed. However, not everything is rosy. Countries like India do not share the same view of the war and are reluctant to join the Western alliance supporting Ukraine, fearing the economic toll of alienating Russia. But sensitivity to historical injustices is just as much a part of their reasoning. In many of the countries Germany hopes to court, post-colonial resentment runs deep. And Germany, despite all its overtures, is seen as part of the colonizing West.
That was a bit of a shock. Germany simply does not perceive itself as a former colonial power. It is true that compared to the British, French, Spanish and Dutch Empires, Germany started later and was smaller in scope. But the German Empire occupied vast lands mostly in the southwest and east of Africa, as well as in the Pacific. It was precisely in one of its colonies that it committed the first officially recognized genocide, of the Herero and Nama people.
It took place in today’s Namibia from 1904 to 1908. German colonial authorities forced rebels – including women and children – into the desert, where many died of starvation and dehydration. Others were detained in concentration camps under disastrous conditions. In all, tens of thousands were murdered. Only in 2021 did Germany recognize the murder as genocide, proposed an apology to Namibia and agreed to pay $1.35 billion in aid.
This chapter of German history receives little public attention. In school in Germany, children learn about the Holocaust from an early age, and rightly so. But they can still easily graduate without ever hearing about the genocide of the Herero and Nama or the brutal repression against the Maji Maji Rebellion in a German colony called East Africa, which extended over parts of today’s Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Colonialism neither figures as part of the national narrative nor informs foreign policy.