Reparations in Tanzania, East Africa
Justice for Maji Maji
The East African (Nairobi)
February 28, 2006
Posted to the web February 28, 2006
Mike Mande and Wilfred Edwin
A HUNDRED YEARS AFTER their ancestors went to war with
Germany to resist colonial rule, Tanzanians are now
contemplating seeking war reparations for the
atrocities committed by the Germans during the Maji
The two-year war, which was fought between 1905 and
1907, started at Nandete in Kilwa district, Lindi
region but soon spread to other southern areas of the
country such as Songea in Ruvuma region. A total of
249,530 people died during the war, which affected the
Ngoni, Matumbi, Waluguru, Makua, Yao and Makonde
Dr Bertram Mapunda, head of the History Department at
the University of Dar es Salaam, who is coordinating
the effort, told The EastAfrican in Dar es Salaam last
week that the reparation idea has been developed by
the Elders' Council of the Maji Maji Museum of Songea
"but it is now drawing national interest."
Dr Mapunda said that the issue has already been handed
over to Chief Justice Barnabas Samatta for
professional advice, although it is still at
preliminary stages of collecting more ideas on the way
"The Chief Justice has not been approached in his
official capacity, but rather as a fellow elder and
learned brother in law," Dr Mapunda said.
The rebels were told by their medicinemen (waganga),
that special water from the Uluguru Mountains would
protect them by magically turning bullets into water,
hence the Maji Maji rebellion. The most famous mganga
was Kinjikitile Ngwale of Ngarambe. "Drinking
stations" were established to allow local populations
to benefit from this magic medicine, which was
sprinkled all over a person's body.
Justice Samatta said that the file on the case had not
reached his office.
"I have not received the documents and I am not aware
of the issue," he said.
Tanzania is the second country south of the Sahara to
lodge a civil suit against Germany seeking reparations
for colonial rule. In December last year, the German
government paid $23.5 million and asked for
forgiveness for colonial atrocities committed a
century ago against the Herero, Nama and Damara tribes
THE CIVIL CLAIM AGAINST Germany had been filed in
September 2001 by the the Herero People's Reparation
Corporation in the District of Columbia in the United
The Herero wanted the judge to order Germany to pay a
total of $2 billion for atrocities committed during
The district court of Columbia was chosen for the
lawsuit because a 216-year-old American law, the Alien
Tort Claims Act of 1789, allows such civil action to
When he was Foreign Minister, President Jakaya Kikwete
said Tanzania supported the proposal for reparations
and compensation to the victims from countries that
benefited from the slave trade and colonialism.
President Kikwete said during the World Conference
against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
related Intolerance that acknowledgement of
responsibility and apology are important steps in the
healing process and would repair the damage caused by
those crimes against humanity.
"Payment of reparations and compensation is the best
way of demonstrating that justice has been done to
those who have been wronged. It is a common practice
in other parts of the world. Why not apply it to
Africa?" he asked.
According to President Kikwete, Germans paid
reparations to Europe for crimes against humanity
during the First World War and Jews are being
compensated for crimes committed against them during
"We don't understand why there is hostility to the
idea of reparations and compensation to Africa," he
said at the meeting in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
The quest for reparation came as the country prepared
to mark the 100th anniversary of the war. Celebrations
to mark the occasion were held in Songea from February
21 to 27.
"Maji Maji war was an honourable undertaking. It
deserves commemoration by all who care for human
respect, dignity and equality," said Dr Mapunda.
The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the
University of Dar es Salaam organised the
The Tanzania People's Defence Forces, the National
Museum and Songea Development Foundation also took
Songea was chosen for the celebrations because, apart
from being the area where the decisive battles of the
war took place, it is the only place in Tanzania where
there is a museum dedicated to the Maji Maji war.
The Council of Elders for Traditions and Customs, one
of the custodians of the museum, have commemorated the
hanging of the Maji Maji heroes on February 27 every
year since the 1980s.
Chief Chabruma's assassination marked the end of the
The two-year commemoration will cost about Tsh136
million ($113,807). The money will come from donations
by non-governmental organisations, government
ministries and individuals.
Activities at the three-day event included a museum
exhibition, a local historians' workshop, theatre
performances, visits to the war-related historical
sites around Songea, including the famous hanging
site, and Chandamali cave, where Chief Songea Mbano
used to hide out.