Kanaky: Let’s (really) put an end to the era of colonies (plus statements from French radical left)

First published in French at l’Anticapitaliste. Translated by International Viewpoint. Edited for clarity by LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

Today it is necessary to lay the foundations of a citizenship of New Caledonia allowing the original people to constitute with the men and women who live there a human community affirming its common destiny… Ten years later, it is time to open a new stage marked by the full recognition of the Kanak identity, a prerequisite for the reestablishment of a social contract between all the communities living in New Caledonia, and by a sharing of sovereignty with France on the path to full sovereignty.

Preamble to the Nouméa Accords signed in 1998 by the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), the colonial right and the French state.

At a moment when a constitutional law is reaffirming the colonial project in Kanaky, it is more than urgent to oppose the manoeuvres of the French state against the Kanak people and promote solidarity. Let us look back at this fight for self-determination and emancipation … which is continuing.

When France took possession of Kanaky in 1853, the archipelago was inhabited by a people numbering in their tens of thousands, a people who liven on these lands for 3000 years with their own culture, economy and social organization. Repression and massacres against those opposing land dispossession, as well as diseases, endangered the survival of the Kanak people. Confined in reserves, the Kanak used these spaces to rebuild their social organization, economy, cultural (and political) life.

The anti-colonial struggles and national liberation movements in Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba, found an echo in the population. Priests and seminarians (Tjibaou , Machoro ,etc) left the church, while students in France participated in May ‘68 and established relationships with anti-colonialist activists from all continents.

The settler-colonial policy of the French state

Worried about this politicization and the first actions and demands for independence, the French state decided in 1972 to engage in a policy of increasing the population by encouraging the settlement of French people. The Kanaks were at that time the majority of the population.

In 1981, when François Mitterrand and the left came to power in France, the Kanak people only represented 40 per cent of the population. But that was a time of hope. The innate and active right of the Kanak people to independence was enshrined in the governmental Common Programme. A minority sector of European settlers agreed to form a local government chaired by Jean-Marie Tjibaou.

The majority of the colonial right became radicalized, and denounced being abandoned by the state. Its members identified with the pieds-noirs of Algeria (victims of the abandonment of Algeria by President Charles de Gaulle), and supported the Afrikaners of South Africa. Weapons were circulating, barbouzes (including many ex-members of the OAS, a far-right paramilitary organisation) were recruited and militias were formed. In 1983, the Territorial Assembly was stormed and elected separatist officials were beaten up. The state did not react: it prepared a new statute. In 1984, it presented its draft statute, with new institutions, land reform and greater autonomy.

The problem was that the French Constitution only recognizes one people within the territory of France: the French people, composed of free men and women who are equal in law. Thus any metropolitan resident passing through or having just arrived has the same rights as a Kanak to decide on the future of the archipelago. In the National Assembly, left-wing deputies, who where the majority, rejected the amendments tabled by the only Kanak deputy... The settlement policy could continue.

From the creation of the FLNKS to the Nouméa Accords

Condemned to become a small minority in their own country, the Kanak people were becoming radicalized. In September 1984, the FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) was created, and a provisional government was formed. On November 18, the day of elections to the new institutions, an insurrection started, as Éloi Machoro broke his village’s ballot box with an axe. The photo went around the world. In France, thousands of activists were organizing solidarity.

From 1984 to 1988, there was a revolutionary situation in the archipelago, which transformed the country in a lasting manner. The Kanak people did not have the means to get rid of French colonialism militarily, but they had the capacity to paralyse the country and create a permanent state of insecurity. The state responded to the actions of the FLNKS with repression and gave the militias free rein. Dozens of activists were killed, hundreds imprisoned, in particular in what became known as the Ouvéa cave affair. France was singled out at the United Nations: the General Assembly reinstated New Caledonia on the list of territories to be decolonized. From now on Kanaky was under the gaze of the UN and France had to answer for its actions. The FLNKS was recognized as the legitimate representative of the Kanak people.

Then in 1998, taking advantage of the balance of forces created on the ground, the FLNKS negotiated agreements with the colonial right and the French state aimed at liberating geographical, political, economic, cultural and diplomatic spaces, and occupying them to develop policies preparing the country for independence.

The Nouméa Accords of 1998 established, in Kanaky, in France and before the international community, the readiness of the French state to initiate a policy of decolonization, the outcome of which would be the accession of the country to full sovereignty. But above all it was constitutionally recognized that the Kanak people were the central pillar of the country, which was also open to inhabitants who had been resident in the country for at least ten years at the time of signing the agreement. Together, they aimed to become citizens of the sovereign country.

Three referendums (in 2018, 2020, and 2022) were organized to consult citizens on the country’s accession to full sovereignty. In 2018, 47.3 per cent voted for independence. In 2020, 47 per cent. In 2022, the state imposed the holding of the third referendum amid the COVID crisis. The heavily affected Kanak people buried their hundreds of dead and more than 90 per cent boycotted the referendum. The result, with a turnout of 43 per cent, was a 96 per cent vote to remain a French colony.

Since 1998, the FLNKS has been in the minority in the central institutions of the colony (Congress, government). It is the majority in two out of three provinces. Equipped with considerable powers (economy, culture), the provinces have allowed the FLNKS to gain a foothold in strategic economic sectors, such as nickel, tourism and transport. But the bulk of the country’s economy remains in the hands of a few multimillionaire families associated with multinationals. The parties of the colonial right represent their interests. They used the political power they hold in government to implement a mixture of ultraliberal policies thanks to financial transfers from the motherland and euros obtained from tax evasion via tax exemption laws.

Economic growth in 2000-2010

Driven by high nickel prices and the French state’s chequebook, the country experienced a high rate of economic growth until 2015. It saw the construction of two metallurgical factories, an airport, a hospital, and numerous infrastructures: roads, electrical networks, a new town, etc. The crisis in France turned off the tap that supplied the euros, and nickel prices collapsed. This led to an abysmal debt, three factories in near bankruptcy, and social systems in bankruptcy.

During the elections in 2020, the FLNKS won seats but remained in the minority in Congress. A new political force emerged, the Oceanian Awakening, representing the Wallisian and Futunian community. Wallis and Futuna is a French colony located in Polynesia. As part of its settlement policy, the French state organized the migration of thousands of people to work in construction, mining, public works, etc. For a long time this community was used by the right as a strong-arm force against the Kanaks The Oceanian Awakening is an expression of the emancipation of the community from the colonial right.

In 2021, the FLNKS and the Oceanian Awakening formed a so-called Oceanian majority in Congress. This alliance made up the majority of the new government chaired by Louis Mapou, an activist and historic leader of the FLNKS. For the first time since the Tjibaou government in 1983, the Kanaks were in power.

Since the formation of this new majority, the colonial right has continued to radicalize: the big families are withdrawing their capital and the nickel multinationals are disinvesting from Kanaky to the benefit of Indonesia. To deal with the COVID crisis, the state subsidized all local authorities but imposed a loan on the government of New Caledonia at a rate higher than that of the market.

The population is suffering the consequences of the crisis: unemployment, high cost of living, failing public services, etc.

Emperor Macron

In July 2023, French president Emmanuel Macron came to Kanaky, escorted by two Rafale jets. The two jets, after performing their circus over the country, flew to Australia to participate in military manoeuvres alongside NATO forces in the Pacific. The enemy was China. 

In Kanaky, Macron invited the Caledonians to join as an ally of France in the construction of an Indo-Pacific axis (from Mayotte to Papeete, including India, New Zealand, and Australia) aimed at opposing Chinese influence in the region. In this construction, the FLNKS does not appear as a reliable ally. In the Pacific and at the UN, it is a thorn in the side of French diplomacy. If there was no money for the COVID crisis in Kanaky, there is plenty of money to try to distract the countries of the region from their support for the FLNKS, through the creation of a military academy, cooperation agreements, etc.

Besieged by the colonial right and faced with a French government determined in its imperial aims, the Oceanian alliance resisted. Since then the country’s government has tried to take measures to deal with the crisis. Timid tax reforms that affect the interests of the wealthiest and employers were the subject of fierce resistance from the colonial right and employers.

In March 2024, road transport sector bosses, supported by all employers and the right, blocked fuel depots and threatening the country with paralysis. The state, responsible for maintaining order, allowed this to happen. Right-wing elected officials left Congress and government, declaring the institutions they had led for decades illegitimate and undemocratic.

To reduce tension, Louis Mapou announced the withdrawal of a tax on fuels, aimed at making up for the chronic deficit in electricity production and distribution, at the origin of the blockade. Despite this withdrawal, the blockade continued and the right called for a march on Congress. It took the mobilization of hundreds of FLNKS activists determined to have the blockades lifted for the road transport bosses to send their trucks back to the garage.

After having imposed the holding of a referendum amid the COVID crisis and endorsing the result despite the boycott of the Kanak people, the government wants to guarantee the colonization of Kanaky by modifying the electorate and opening it up to anyone living for at least ten years in the country, making the Kanaks definitively a minority.

Fighting the new constitutional law

The constitutional law, initiated by the government and supported by the local right, represents a break from the 1998 agreements. It is contrary to numerous UN resolutions, which oppose colonial settlement policies. Like in 1983, the only Kanak elected to the Senate is leading the fight to oppose this law. His amendments have been rejected.

On March 23-24, the FLNKS held its congress, open to the entire independence movement. Unanimously, the 700 activists and delegates (which in France would correspond to a congress of 140,000 people) called for mobilizations against the constitutional bill, in support of the Louis Mapou government, and the opening of discussions with the state aimed at the accession of Kanaky to full sovereignty.

The putschist policy of the colonial right and the passivity, or even complicity, of the French state in the face of its actions and threats, demonstrate that there is no place for a territory governed by the Kanaks within the French Republic.

On March 28, the colonial right called for a march on Congress. The FLNKS, in turn, called for a march against the constitutional law.

Anti-colonialist and anti-racist activists, as well as those who stand in solidarity with the struggle of peoples for their liberation in Palestine, Ukraine and Kurdistan, must be ready to mobilize in solidarity with the Kanak people.

New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA): No to the Darmanin law! Respect for the Kanak people’s right to self-determination!

First published in French at l’Anticapitaliste on May 14. Translated by International Viewpoint.

A curfew between 6 pm and 6 am in the Nouméa conurbation, a ban on demonstrations, dozens of arrests, emergency deployment of extra squads of gendarmes, CRS, GIGN and RAID: Macron is playing with fire by trying to take back by force the right of the Kanak people to self-determination, which they were guaranteed under the agreements signed in 1998 in Nouméa by the French government.

What is happening throughout Kanaky is the uprising of a people. Since May 13, port, airport and hotel workers have been on strike and young people have organized roadblocks to control traffic. Macron and Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin’s repressive policy of having the police fire on the young people has sparked off a conflagration, the images of which are shown on loop in the media.

One demand unites this mobilization: no to the unfreezing of the electoral law and the recolonization the government put in place in December 2021 by unilaterally organising, amid the COVID crisis, the third referendum provided for in the 1998 agreements. It was the government’s desire to halt the decolonization process initiated in 1988 by the Matignon Accords that has led to the current crisis!

For two years, the USTKE (Federation of Unions of Kanak Workers and the Exploited), FLNKS and the Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) have been building mobilizations throughout Kanaky to make the voices of the colonized heard. The government’s response has been repression (including arrests for carrying the Kanak flag) and the desire to pass the Darmanin law, which puts a definitive end to the process that emerged from the Matignon agreements in 1988 and concretely ends the possibility of self-determination for the Kanak people by opening up the electorate.

The New Anti-Capitalist Party supports the demands put forward by the FLNKS, the CCAT and the mobilized Kanak population: withdrawal of the Darmanin law, withdrawal of the forces of repression, respect for the right to self-determination of the Kanak people, and opening of discussions for a decolonization process. In Kanaky, as in all colonized territories: no justice, no peace!

France Unbowed-New Ecological and Social People's Union (LFI-NUPES): Macron in New Caledonia — what for?

First published in French at La France insoumise on May 21. Translated by LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

President Macron has announced that he will leave for New Caledonia this evening to set up a “mission”, with no further details. 

We welcome the sending of a mission of dialogue, if that is indeed the intention of the President of the Republic. However, we question its composition. We ask that the presidents of Réunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as of French Guiana, who on May 19 called for the reform to be “withdrawn immediately”, to be part of this mission.

However, without announcing any indefinite postponement of the convening of the Congress of Versailles or the withdrawal of the constitutional bill, this mission is meaningless.

Once again, Parliament is being presented with the fait accompli of the president’s decision.

The LFI-NUPES parliamentary group calls for a halt to the unilateral unfreezing of the electoral body for the provincial elections in New Caledonia, and calls for an overall agreement on the territory's institutional future. This agreement can only be reached on the basis of consensus between the parties, with an impartial state.

Only under these conditions can civil peace return to New Caledonia.