Unveiling New Caledonia’s Strife: A Current Misrepresented Anti-Colonial Struggle

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 24 Jun 2024

Raïs Neza Boneza – TRANSCEND Media Service

21 Jun 2024 – New Caledonia, an archipelago near Australia, has been experiencing significant unrest recently. Media coverage has often framed the situation simplistically as an anti-white conflict, but the reality is far beyond a racialized friction. To truly understand the underlying conflict, it is crucial to delve into the historical and contemporary issues fueling the violence, revealing a people’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule.

Drawing from History

France colonized New Caledonia over a century ago, instituting a regime that severely discriminated against the indigenous Kanak population. The Kanaks were confined to reserves, exploited, and even displayed as curiosities in Paris’s “Jardin d´acclimatation”; a zoo like exhibition. This colonization laid the groundwork for the ongoing conflict, with Kanaks marginalized and their lands exploited for valuable resources, particularly its vast nickel reserves.

New Caledonia became a French overseas territory (Territoire d´Outre Mer: TOM) in 1946, ending the harshest colonial practices but maintaining a patronage system akin to apartheid. However, the Kanaks’ desire for independence remained strong, leading to the formation of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which has led the political struggle for greater autonomy from France and eventual independence. This struggle nearly escalated into civil war in the 1980s, a period known as “Les Événements” (The events). This culminated in the Matignon and Nouméa agreement (1988), which promised increased autonomy and a referendum on independence.

The Nouméa Accord and Referendums

The Nouméa Accord set a path for potential independence, with referendums held in 2018 and 2020. Both votes saw a narrow majority against independence, influenced by significant financial and demographic imbalances. The Kanaks, though politically active, struggled to match the resources of non-Kanak residents, particularly those in affluent southern provinces viewed as settlers.

In a controversial move, the French government advanced the third and final referendum from 2022 to 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kanak leaders requested a postponement due to the pandemic’s impact, but this was denied. The resulting referendum saw a massive abstention rate among Kanaks and a decisive vote against independence, which the majority of the indigenous Kanak view as illegitimate.

Constitutional Changes and Increased Tensions

Tensions escalated further when President Macron’s government proposed a constitutional reform to expand voting rights in New Caledonia. Previously, only those residing in the territory since 1998 could vote on critical issues like independence. The new law would allow any resident of ten years to vote, a move perceived by Kanaks as an attempt to dilute their influence and undermine the independence movement.

The reform passed in the National Assembly, sparking outrage among the Kanak populations. The lack of consensus with local leaders violated the spirit of the Nouméa Accord (1998), leading to violent clashes, numerous injuries, and fatalities. The western media portrayals of the unrest as a racial conflict misrepresent the Kanaks’ legitimate grievances and their fight for self-determination.

The Broader Implications

As stated in the United Nations Charter: “The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and cooperation.”

The situation in New Caledonia is not merely an ethnic conflict but a continuation of a people long struggle for independence and recognition. The French government’s recent actions have intensified tensions, potentially jeopardizing peace in the region. As the world watches, it is crucial to understand the historical and political contexts behind the violence and support a resolution that honors the Kanak people’s right to self-determination.

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Raïs Neza Boneza is the author of fiction as well as non-fiction, poetry books and articles. He was born in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Former Zaïre). He is also an activist and peace practitioner. Raïs is convener of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment for Central and African Great Lakes and uses his work to promote artistic expressions as a means to deal with conflicts and maintaining mental wellbeing, spiritual growth and healing. He has travelled extensively in Africa and around the world as a lecturer, educator and consultant for various NGOs and institutions. His work is premised on art, healing, solidarity, peace, conflict transformation and human dignity issues. Raïs work also as freelance journalist based in Trondheim, Norway. You can reach him at rais.boneza@gmail.com. http://www.raisnezaboneza.no


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Jun 2024.

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One Response to “Unveiling New Caledonia’s Strife: A Current Misrepresented Anti-Colonial Struggle”

  1. Marilyn Langlois says:

    Thank you, Rais, for letting us know about the struggle of the Kanak people in New Caledonia. It’s off the radar of most, yet follows a very familiar pattern. May they achieve full self-determination sooner rather than later!

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