Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, issued a formal apology on Wednesday for the killings that occurred under colonial rule in Tanzania over a century ago. During his visit to Tanzania, President Steinmeier met with descendants of Chief Songea Mbano, a leader who was executed during a revolt against German colonial rule.
He expressed a commitment to uncovering the truth about this historical period, which continues to trouble Tanzanians, writes the AP.
Steinmeier acknowledged that numerous bones and skulls were taken from East Africa during the colonial era and later ended up in German museums and anthropological collections. These remains were largely forgotten amid the upheaval of two world wars and the end of the colonial era.
One of these skulls may belong to Chief Songea Mbano, who met his fate at the hands of the Germans in 1906.
This visit to Tanzania is particularly significant as the country was once part of German East Africa, which encompassed the present-day nations of Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. This colonial entity existed from 1885 until its dissolution after Germany’s defeat in World War I under the Treaty of Versailles. The period witnessed the Maji Maji rebellion from 1905 to 1907, during which an estimated 300,000 people lost their lives resisting colonial rule.
President Steinmeier praised Chief Songea Mbano’s bravery in leading the rebellion. He paid his respects by laying a rose at the leader’s grave and a wreath at a mass grave containing the remains of 66 other Maji Maji uprising fighters.
Addressing the descendants of those affected by German colonialism, President Steinmeier said, “I bow to the victims of German colonial rule. And as German president, I would like to apologize for what Germans did to your ancestors here.”
Steinmeier also pledged to work with the Tanzanians to locate Chief Songea’s skull, recognizing that this endeavor might not be without difficulties given the challenges of identifying human remains, even with scientific expertise.
In 2017, Tanzania’s then-government considered the possibility of pursuing legal action against Germany to seek compensation for those who were allegedly subjected to starvation, torture, and death by German forces during the colonial era.
Notably, in 2021, Germany reached an agreement with Namibia, another country once under German colonial rule. This agreement recognized the colonial-era massacres as genocide and pledged funding to support affected communities, although it fell short of providing formal reparations.
However, this agreement still awaits formal approval, and some groups representing the Herero and Nama people have expressed dissatisfaction with its terms.