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The power of an apology

The power of an apology


  • In May, Germany officially apologised to Namibia for the massacre of the Herero and Nama people in 1904-1908 and called it a genocide for the first time.

  • Around the same time, French President Emmanuel Macron said in Rwanda that he recognised his country’s role in the Rwandan genocide and hoped for forgiveness.

Positive effects of an Apology:

  • The importance of these gestures cannot be overestimated. They can generate multiple positive effects.

  • Bilateral relations: It helps in strengthening the relations between the countries involved.

  • Reconciliation of People: Apologies by leaders help people reconcile with the past.

  • Lessons from history: Countries and communities take lessons from history and avoid similar tragedies.

  • Justice and rectitude: Most importantly, they provide some solace to the victims’ descendants; they give them a sense of justice and rectitude.

  • The Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, has a propensity for apologies. According to him, “apologies for things in the past are important to make sure that we actually understand and know and share and do not repeat those mistakes”.

  • Komagata Maru Incident: In 2016, Mr. Trudeau apologised before the descendants of passengers of the Komagata Maru ship.

    • In 1914, the Canadian government of the day had decided to turn away the ship carrying South Asian migrants, mostly Sikhs.

    • The ship was forced to return to India. Back home, the British suspected the passengers to be revolutionaries and an altercation began. Many passengers were shot dead.

Apologies and International Relation:

  • Sense of humility: Arguably, a sense of humility is a rare phenomenon in contemporary geopolitics.

    • We are witnessing a re-emergence of political leaders, from Nicaragua to Myanmar, who are ready to resort to any means in order to remain in power.

  • In this environment, apologetic voices become even more precious as they help us reconcile with tragic events of the past and remove the stains of history.

  • Moral international relation: Besides, apologetic voices add a moral dimension to international relations.

  • Moral leadership: In this sense, to be a pillar of the multipolar world is not to be a military power, manufacturing and/or financial hub, and/or a global investor alone.

    • Countries that strive for global leadership should be able to provide moral leadership as well.


  • Namibia’s Herero activists insist that the development aid offered by the German authorities is not enough and is generic in nature.

  • Tangible compensation: According to them, the descendants of the genocide’s victims should receive a tangible compensation, primarily in the form of land property that had been taken away by the German colonisers.

  • It is difficult to find a mutually acceptable compromise. ‘What is the right price to pay for genocide?’ is a rhetorical question.


  • Moral leadership requires critical self-reflection, humility, compassion, and care not only towards their own people, but also towards the most vulnerable communities around the world.

  • Such apologies require courage, good will, compassion, and humility. It is not an easy task to apologise, given that one has to do so for events that took place decades or even a century ago.

Source: The Hindu