Reparations—a system of redress for egregious injustices—are not a foreign idea imposed from the outside on the United States. On the contrary, the U.S. has given lands to Native Americans, paid $1.5 billion to Japanese Americans interned in the U.S. during World War II, and helped Jews receive reparations for the Holocaust, including making various investments over time.
But the U.S. has yet to compensate descendants of Black Americans enslaved for their labor nor has it atoned for the lost equity from segregated housing, transportation, and business policy. And no one will forget that American slavery was particularly brutal.
Calls for justice are now resounding ever more loudly in the U.S. and around the world. European countries which benefited greatly from wealth stolen in the colonial era are struggling to respond. While several are taking initial steps to return some of what was seized, much more needs to be done.
One country that has managed to dodge financial restitution is Germany. Last year, Europe’s biggest economy offered just over $1 billion over 30 years for what Berlin said “from today’s perspective, would be called genocide” of indigenous communities.
Much of the stolen wealth is in art and artifacts. More than 90% of the most prominent sub-Saharan African pieces of art are currently outside of the continent, writes Rokhaya Diallo in the Washington Post. To keep such pieces of art on French soil, she noted, France made them untransferable. Pressure from African countries made France acknowledge the unfairness, passing a law to return cultural goods to Benin and Senegal.
Madagascar was given back the crown of Queen Ranavalona III—one of the most precious symbols of Malagasy national pride.
Last but not least, more than a century after the horrendous genocide perpetrated in Namibia that killed 80% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama population, Germany started a discussion with the Namibian government in 2015 to “heal the wounds” caused by the historical cruelty.
A token amount was promised to the Namibian people, after years of activism from Namibian and Black German organizations. But the declaration failed to mention “reparations” or “compensation,” and Germany avoided any direct discussion with the Herero and the Nama. Parliamentarian Inna Hengari called this “insulting.”
While Namibian President Hage Geingob’s government accepted the offer, parliament did not, calling it insufficient. The deal is now on hold.
“That deal was never about us,” said Nandi Mazeingo, chair of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation. “You kill 80% of a community and offer a billion dollars spread over 30 years?” Germany, he said, must talk to communities directly.
According to the Namibia Statistics Agency, white farmers own 70% of commercial farmland, while “previously disadvantaged” groups own 16%. “Land is what made [Germans] rich,” Mbakumua Hengari told the Financial Times. “For the Herero and Nama, it was the start of trans-generational impoverishment.”
Meanwhile, Uganda has been ordered to pay the Democratic Republic of Congo $325 million for the occupation and plundering of its Eastern province more than 20 years ago—the largest reparation award by an international court for gross violations of human rights and for violations of international humanitarian law.