Steven Press is the author of Blood and Diamonds: Germany’s Imperial Ambitions in Africa, available from Harvard University Press.
Between 1904 and 1908, Germany’s military and leadership oversaw the killing of at least 80,000 Africans in what is now the independent country of Namibia. On May 28, Germany apologized. Declaring his country’s past violence in Namibia “genocidal,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also pledged $1.3 billion in aid to Namibians, whose capital, Windhoek, still has a prominent street named after Otto von Bismarck.
The German apology is a commendable step and important precedent. But its parameters are inadequate, and one reason why may be embedded in your family’s heirloom engagement ring.
Millions of carats in diamonds have been exported from Namibia since 1908. These same sparkling stones have a dirty history tied to German colonial rule. Right now, official statements about Germany’s debt to Namibia do not account for those gemstones at all.
The debt Germany owes is construed as limited to the recognized period of genocide—even though the real money that Germans made and controlled in Namibia came after 1908, and the process of making that money implicated many parts of the world in a deadly, brutal colonial process.
We cannot really assess what Germany and the world “owe” Namibia until we consider this economic dimension of the past. For much of modern history diamonds were rare, at least outside of India and Brazil.
For the rest of this column: https://time.com/6072145/namibia-germany-apology-diamonds/