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German President asks for forgiveness in Tanzania for colonial-era atrocities

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier apologized Wednesday for colonial-era atrocities committed by German forces in Tanzania during a visit to the East African country.

“As German President, I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here,” Steinmeier, who began a three-day visit to Tanzania on Monday, told descendants of local war hero Songea Mbano

Mbano was hanged and beheaded alongside dozens of his fighters for staging an uprising, known as the Maji-Maji rebellion, against the Germans in the early 1900s.

An estimated 300,000 people – around one-third of the indigenous population at the time – were killed in the uprising, which was fueled by brutal repression of locals by their German colonizers.

Tanganyika, now present-day Tanzania, was first a German colony before coming under British control in 1919.

“This cruel deed has left its mark on many generations,” Steinmeier told the Mbano family at the Maji Maji Museum in Songea, southern Tanzania, according to a transcript of his speech provided by the German presidency.

“It shames me. I am ashamed about what German colonial soldiers did to your forefather and his fellow warriors,” he added, but made no mention of reparations.

Tanzanians have been reacting on social media to Steinmeier’s apology, with one commentator saying: “Apologizing isn’t enough … Germany has to pay reparation.”

Germany had previously acknowledged its colonial-era atrocities in Africa.

In 2021, it announced €1.1 billion ($1.3 billion) support to descendants of the victims of colonial-era genocide committed against the Herero and Nama ethnic groups in Namibia, a former German colony more than a hundred years ago.

Steinmeier told the Mbano family in Tanzania that his country would work towards finding Mbano’s remains, which may have been transported to Europe by German troops for burial after his execution.

“What we know is that many remains from East Africa were brought to Germany back then and were placed in museums and anthropological collections. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of skulls,” he said.

“I promise that we will work together with you to find Chief Songea’s skull in Germany,” the German president added.

Steinmeier also traveled to Zambia Wednesday, with both visits aimed at fostering partnerships, according to the German government.

It coincided with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s tour of West Africa earlier in the week. Scholz visited Nigeria and Ghana where he held bilateral talks with the countries’ leaders.

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