BERLIN — Germany’s president on Wednesday apologized for killings under colonial rule in Tanzania more than a century ago as he met descendants of an executed leader of a revolt against German rule, and vowed to seek answers to questions about that era that leave Tanzanians no peace.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on a visit to Tanzania noted that many bones and skulls were taken to Germany from East Africa and ended up in museums and anthropological collections, and that they were largely forgotten after the end of the colonial era and two world wars.
One of those skulls could be that of Chief Songea Mbano, who was executed by the Germans in 1906.
German East Africa — today’s Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi — existed from 1885 until Germany’s defeat at the end of World War I, when it lost its colonies under the treaty of Versailles. Up to 300,000 people are believed to have died during the Maji Maji rebellion against the colonial power between 1905 and 1907.
Steinmeier said that Mbano was “a brave leader” in the rebellion. He laid a rose at his grave and a wreath at a mass grave of 66 other fighters in the Maji Maji uprising, German news agency dpa reported.
“Along with you, I mourn Chief Songea and the others who were executed,” he said. “I bow to the victims of German colonial rule. And as German president, I would like to apologize for what Germans did to your ancestors here.”
Steinmeier also offered an assurance that “together with you, we will try to find the skull of Chief Songea in Germany,” according to remarks released by his office. “Unfortunately, I just can’t promise you that we will be successful,” because identifying human remains is difficult even with scientific expertise, he added.
In 2017, Tanzania’s then-government said it was considering legal action to seek compensation from Germany for the people who allegedly were starved, tortured and killed by German forces.
Germany in 2021 announced an agreement with Namibia, another country where it was once the colonial ruler, to recognize colonial-era massacres of tens of thousands of people there as genocide and provide funding to help the communities affected. But the accord stopped short of formal reparations.
That agreement, which some groups representing the Herero and Nama people aren’t happy with, has yet to be formally signed off on.