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 Maji war.

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 people.

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 forward.

"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 of Namibia.

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 States.

The Herero wanted the judge to order Germany to pay a total of $2 billion for atrocities committed during colonial rule.

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 be taken.

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 the Holocaust.

"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 commemoration.

The Tanzania People's Defence Forces, the National Museum and Songea Development Foundation also took part.

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 armed rebellion.

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.

Sheba Kane
Mayibuye iAfrica!