German President Steinmeier faces colonial past on Tanzania trip

Wednesday November 01 2023

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at a press conference at the state house in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on October 31, 2023. PHOTO | IKULU TANZANIA


Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday called for the country to face up to its "dark" colonial past in Tanzania and said his country was open to returning artefacts looted during the era. German East Africa, which encompassed Burundi and Rwanda as well as mainland Tanzania, was the site of one of the bloodiest uprisings in colonial history.

Experts say between 200,000 and 300,000 members of the Indigenous population were brutally murdered during the so-called Maji Maji Rebellion of 1905 to 1907. Most of them died as a result of the systematic destruction of fields and villages by German colonial troops.

"We must not forget the past," Steinmeier said after meeting President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Dar es Salaam on the second day of a three-day visit to Tanzania.

Read: Germany president visits Tanzania

Relations between the two countries are "overshadowed by the atrocities of the German colonial occupation in the former German East Africa," Steinmeier said. "It is important to me that we come to terms with this dark chapter, that we come to terms with it together," he added.

Steinmeier said Germany was open to cooperating with Tanzania on "the repatriation of cultural property and human remains".


He will on Wednesday travel to the city of Songea in southern Tanzania, where he will visit the Maji Maji Museum and meet descendants of the victims. The German president said the museum visit was dedicated to the "communal processing" of the past.

"I am very grateful, and I know that this is anything but a given," he said.

Steinmeier's trip coincides with a visit by Britain's King Charles III to Kenya, also expected to be dominated by conversations about the colonial era.

Read: UK King ‘learning’ from past colonial brutality in Kenya

Over the past 20 years, Germany has been gradually starting to talk more about the crimes it committed during colonial times.

In German Southwest Africa, now Namibia, Germany was responsible for mass killings of Indigenous Herero and Nama people that many historians refer to as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Germany has returned skulls and other human remains to Namibia that it had sent to Berlin during the period. In 2021, the country officially acknowledged that it had committed genocide in Namibia and promised a billion euros ($1.06 billion) in financial support to descendants of the victims.

Germany has also started to return cultural artefacts looted during the colonial era. Last year, it began returning items from its collections of Benin Bronzes, ancient sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, to Nigeria.