Speaking for the Dead: The Memorial Politics of Genocide in Namibia and Germany

Posted: 26 Sep 2017

See all articles by Ronald Niezen

Ronald Niezen

McGill University, Department of Anthropology

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Date Written: September 20, 2017


This paper discusses the politics of the material commemoration of mass crime, with a focus on the Ovaherero and Nama descendants of the victims of a 1904-1908 mass ethnic killing in German Southwest Africa. My approach to monuments emphasises their place as constitutional artefacts that mark changes of regime after war or revolution, and as focal points of resistance to state regimes of commemoration. Tracing the material forms of memorialization in Germany reveals the significance of both a “remembrance culture” of the Holocaust and, at the same time, resistance to recognition of the Ovaherero/Nama genocide. In Namibia, the success of the Ovaherero/Nama activist campaign in Germany prompted the government to shift positions and take up the cause of genocide remembrance, asking Germany to officially recognize that its actions constituted genocide, to issue a formal apology and to pay reparations. The study of the Herero/Nama activist campaigns in Namibia and Germany thus reveals the ways that activists were able to translate and repurpose genocide claims by crossing into different geographies of commemoration and dissent and returning with new tools for leveraging politics at home.

Keywords: Monuments, Genocide, Ovaherero, Namibia, Germany

Suggested Citation

Niezen, Ronald, Speaking for the Dead: The Memorial Politics of Genocide in Namibia and Germany (September 20, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3041994

Ronald Niezen (Contact Author)

McGill University, Department of Anthropology ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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