Colonial Crimes

As colonial powers both    France and Germany committed war crimes in Africa. They fought two world wars in Europe, but they also murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent Africans in their frantic efforts to plunder resources of Africa. To Africans both French and Germans look alike. They committed genocides in a number of African countries. Even today the legacy of their colonial past haunts the Africans.

The death in custody of Maurice Audin, a 25-year-old mathematician, has for decades been a symbol of the French Army's brutality, during the Algerian war. On 13 September 2018, President Emmanuel Macron of France, recognised that the French army had tortured and killed a youthful antiwar intellectual in 1957. It was one of the ugliest unsolved crimes of France's quasi-colonial war in Algeria, sixty-one years ago. Unlike My Lai of the United States' war in Vietnam, which led to prosecutions, the Audin affair was never investigated. Until now France had never admitted that it used torture in Algeria. But the world knows it really did. President Macron spoke of a system  that allowed torture, violence, crimes—a direct responsibility of the state. The emblematic case of Audin touched the whole history of colonialisation. The Algerian War remains highly sensitive, as many veterans are still alive, as are millions of former French residents of Algeria and their children "pieds Noirs". Maurice Audin was tortured and then executed, or tortured to death by French paratroopers, who arrested him at his house.

In 1966, France's top appeals courts officially closed the books on the case. Early in 2014, French television broadcast a statement from Paul Aussaresses, the dying general who had been in charge of intelligence operations, saying that he had ordered the killing of Mr Audin. France's former colonial possessions in Africa have always been indignant of France's imperial behaviour.

Stretching from 1884 to 1918, Germany's colonial history was relatively short, compared with that of other European countries. German colonisers killed tens of thousands during their regin over all or part of modern-day Ghana, Togo, Cameron, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Namibia. Street signs and other memorials honouring German colonisers still remain scattered throughout Germany. Only a smattering of colonial history is taught in German schools. The German government has not apologised for the nation's colonial crime, and only recently started referring to the killings as genocide.

In 1939, the National Socialists dedicated Petersallee Street, in Berlin's African quarter, to Dr Carl Peters, a leader of Germany's violent colonial efforts in Africa. Germany has yet to come to terms with its violent colonial legacy in Africa, which laid the ground work for, and inspired Nazi atrocities. A couple of months ago, Berlin officials agreed to rename Petersalle, and two other streets much to the delight of activists, who spent years lobbying for the changes. The streets will be renamed after African resistance fighters. The German government recently returned remains stolen during the colonial era to a Namibian delegation. At the beginning of the 20th century, tens of thousands of local people died in Namibia. In addition, at least 100,000 East African resistance fighters, known as the Maji-Moji, died in a war to defend their territory against German forces.

Vol. 51, No.28, Jan 13 - 19, 2019