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Dealing with the colonial heritage in Tanzania

Mangi Meli Memorial

Tanzanian scholars began researching the Maji Maji War and interviewing contemporary witnesses immediately after independence. The Maji Maji Research Project (1967 - 1969) laid the foundation for the study of the war and its consequences. Schools, hospitals and streets were renamed after anti-colonial resistance fighters and monuments were erected - such as the one for Kinjikitile Ngwale in Kilwa Kivinje. In 1980, the Maji Maji Memorial was built in the southern Tanzanian region of Ruvuma, which contains the graves of the resistance fighters as well as a museum. Every year on February 27, the anniversary of the executions, a commemoration ceremony is held there. The descendants of Songea Mbano, one of the leaders, are still searching for his head, which was presumably stolen by the German colonialists after his execution. Because of the unification of many different ethnic groups against the colonialists, the Maji Maji War is an important national symbol and founding narrative. For example, the independence movement around Julius Nyerere used Maji-Maji as an expression of Tanganyik ideals of freedom and unity. Every schoolchild in Tanzania today learns about German colonial rule and about the Maji-Maji War. At the same time, the events were also traumatic and still have a transgenerational impact. 

Also prominently discussed are restitution claims such as that of the Giraffatitan brancai dinosaur skeleton excavated during German colonial rule in Tendaguru in southeastern Tanzania. The skeleton is on display at the Berlin Museum of Natural History and was reclaimed in 2020 by various Tanzanian stakeholders, but never officially by the government. Searches for the head of Chagga resistance fighter Mangi Meli or Ngoni chief Songea Mbano have so far been unsuccessful. After being asked at a parliamentary session about the government's plans to compensate victims of the Maji Maji war, Defense Minister Hussein Mwinyi announced in 2017 that the Tanzanian government would demand reparations. He said he wanted to follow the example of Kenyan claims regarding Mau Mau and the Namibian Herero and Nama. A year later, however, Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga, meeting with his counterpart Heiko Maas, stressed that these demands for reparations would be singular and would be based on individual groups, but would not follow the official government line. There are other ways of mutual support, he explained. In 2020, Tanzanian Ambassador to Germany Abdullah Possi called on the two parliaments to resume negotiations on colonial heritage and reparations.

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