A Wider Lesson from Geingob’s Rebuke of German Double Standards?

Henning Melber

President Hage Geingob’s unequivocally blunt response to Germany siding with Israel in the current case before the International Court of Justice made international headlines.

As the president rightly pointed out: “The German government is yet to fully atone for the genocide it committed on Namibian soil.”

Geingob did not pull any punches. “Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations Convention against genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a Holocaust and genocide in Gaza,” he said.

Questioned by journalists at a Federal German press conference two days later, spokespersons for both the government and the foreign ministry refused to engage over the criticism.

This comes at a time when, according to unofficial reports, the bilateral German-Namibian negotiations on the Joint Declaration – seeking to come to terms with the genocide committed against the Ovaherero, Nama, Damara and San communities at the beginning of the 20th century – has agreed on an addendum.

While the draft initialled by the special envoys in May 2021 was not ratified because of major internal Namibian criticisms, an addendum now reportedly seeks to meet some of the shortcomings.


However, the latest row might throw a spanner in the works.

As the president’s statement noted: “Unreserved and unconditional remorse for genocidal crimes require more than a symbolic moral gesture, especially in the eyes of those who live in the shadow of a hitherto not fully recognised and atoned genocide.”

The discrepancy in the handling of the two genocides committed by Germany could not be bigger.

President Geingob’s strongly worded reaction reflects the emotions of many Namibians.

It is a mirror image of their feelings, being disrespected and humiliated by racist discrimination.

The president has been rightly praised by many for speaking out.

At the same time, such a well-motivated intervention highlights the broader issue of double standards of which Germany, and more generally the West, are rightly accused.

But it should also serve as a reminder that double standards are by no means confined to the West.


If we are to take the lessons of the Holocaust as a serious point of departure, the the motto “never again” should mean “never again”.

It should also apply when it comes to a broader common understanding of other cases involving fundamental violations of human rights and normative principles vested in international law.

Credibility and legitimacy in disputed matters would require applying the same criteria everywhere, speaking truth to power in each case.

If a government rightly condemns invasion, the mass killing of civilians and occupation as in the case of Palestine, it should similarly rigorously condemn such acts committed elsewhere, when other sovereign states are invaded, civilians deliberately killed and territory occupied.

Warmongers should not be considered bedfellows for articulating anti-imperialist rhetoric while acting imperialistically.

President Geingob deserves to be applauded for stressing that genocide is genocide is genocide.

In a similar way, though, one should stress that invasion is invasion is invasion and that occupation is occupation is occupation, even when it takes place in Eastern Europe.

Speaking truth to power requires making such a point when and wherever one expresses one’s views.


Similarly, discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.

This is a valid point not only when it comes to the racism of white supremacy racism or German arrogance towards Namibia.

It also applies to the exclusion of people in one’s own country; to denying them the right to present their case, while being among those most directly affected in matters under consideration.

This points to an inner-Namibian contradiction.

Descendants of communities mainly affected by the consequences of the genocide committed by the German colonial regime 120 years ago, have tried, in vain, to claim a voice at the table of the German-Namibian government-to-government negotiations.

Their motto remains valid: “Anything without us is against us.”

This raises the question of how the Namibian government goes about the modified Joint Declaration.

Given president Geingob’s principled statement, such an agreement can hardly continue to be endorsed any longer.

Instead, there might be a window of opportunity for a face-saving solution in multiple ways.


Dismissing the Joint Declaration could correct mistakes by demanding new negotiations and inviting the main agencies of the victim communities to join the Namibian side in going eye-to-eye with the Germans.

Notwithstanding the legitimacy of Geingob’s statement taking to task German double standards, there is a principled pointer beyond this case.

As a general conclusion: Integrity matters, and the even-handed application of normative values is a matter of credibility and legitimacy both at home and abroad.

It strengthens one’s voice and moral authority.

Opportunistic, unethical pseudo-radical phraseology does not.

Those tempted to resort to such demagogy, no matter the case, advocating selective perspectives in betrayal of general values, should be aware of this.

  • Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He is extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and associated with the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala/Sweden.

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