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Research in Solidarity? Investigating Namibian-German Memory Politics in the Aftermath of Colonial Genocide

Abstract

Undertaking research within the framework of a simultaneously postcolonial and transnational relationship such as that conditioned by the genocide in Namibia (1904–1908) entails specific challenges for the habitus of researchers and the relationships they develop with their research partners. This is certainly the case when the researchers are directly related to the former colonial power. This chapter explores the problems that arise in such an “outreach solidarity.” It also investigates the asymmetry that is inscribed in the postcolonial relationship between Germans and Namibians nowadays. Here, relations of trust and friendship, which seemingly lie beyond the purview of scholarship, are examined as indispensable preconditions for gaining relevant insights and bridging gaps in the aftermath of colonial genocide.

Unsre Herrn, wer sie auch seien,

sehen unsre Zwietracht gern

Denn solang wir uns entzweien,

bleiben sie doch unsre Herrn.

[Our masters who rule us

Hope our quarrels never stop

For so long they split us

they can remain on top.]

—Bertolt Brecht, “Solidaritätslied” (Brecht 1931, pp. 369–370)

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I would like to thank the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of the Western Cape for the opportunity to present some of my views in their seminar series on August 8, 2018.

  2. 2.

    The full text appears in English translation in Gewald 1999, pp. 172–173. Also see https://weareproudtopresent.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/the-extermination-order/. Accessed June 5, 2019.

  3. 3.

    This information is according to an anonymous newspaper report based on Nampa news agency, The Namibian (Windhoek), August 31, 2018. Later developments, including the promotion of one leading Herero activist to the position of Deputy Minister in the Namibian government in March 2020, demonstrate the fluidity of these processes, as well as the sometimes surprising agency of participants.

  4. 4.

    For a more extensive argumentation of this issue, see Kössler and Melber 2002; Kössler 2012b.

  5. 5.

    Weber transformed Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft into processual ones, Vergemeinschaftung/Vergesellschaftung, thereby escaping essentialistic implications (Weber 1985 [1922], pp. 21–23).

  6. 6.

    On the frequently misunderstood, potentially revolutionary meaning of the term “Third World,” see Kalter 2011, pp. 54–55.

  7. 7.

    It is important to distinguish responsibility from guilt. In the wake of the Holocaust, a fictitious claim assigning collective guilt to Germans was used as a ruse precisely to evade such responsibility. See Frei 2012 [1996], 2002.

  8. 8.

    The technical term is Kulturhoheit der Länder.

  9. 9.

    See accounts in Biwa 2012, 2017; Förster 2012, 2013; Kössler 2015, pp. 289–298.

  10. 10.

    The German originals differentiate between Teilnahme and Teilhabe.

  11. 11.

    At the time of revision of this text, German Ambassador Christian-Matthias Schlaga, about to leave his post after completing his stint, made it clear that the negotiation process was not completed yet and stated “we do not have a timeline” (quoted from an interview in an anonymous newspaper report, Windhoek Observer, 28 June 2019).

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Kössler, R. (2021). Research in Solidarity? Investigating Namibian-German Memory Politics in the Aftermath of Colonial Genocide. In: Kim, D.D. (eds) Reframing Postcolonial Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52726-6_8

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