As a special collectivity of France, New Caledonia, an archipelago lying in the southwest Pacific Ocean, east of Australia, will on Sunday November 4, 2018 go to the polls to vote for or against independence from France. Unlike the Catalonia and Kurdistan independence referenda in Spain and Iraq respectively, the government in Metropolitan France and the local authorities in New Caledonia have agreed to recognize and abide by the results of this referendum. This comes after a 20-year transitional period laid the foundations for the gradual transfer of competences from Metropolitan France to the local government in New Caledonia, with the signing of the Nouméa Accord on May 5, 1998. Prior to that, the Matignon Agreements was signed between rival pro-independence and anti-independence groups to ensure a period of peace and stability in the archipelagic territory, in 1988. In March this year, it was announced the referendum will be slated on November 4, 2018.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NEW CALEDONIA
Explored by British navigator, Captain James Cook in 1774, he named it New Caledonia, as the northeastern part of the island reminded him of Caledonia (Latin name of modern Scotland).
In 1853, it was annexed by France and it became a penal colony. As a penal colony, it saw the arrival of several Algerians who the French considered rebels when they were colonizing the North African country in the 1870s. Presently, about 10% of New Caledonians are of Algerian descent.
By 1946, New Caledonia had become a French overseas territory and in 1953, French citizenship was granted to all New Caledonians irrespective of their ethnicity. In 1999, it was declared a special collectivity of France.
Kanak and French flags
French President Emmanuel Macron is its current Head of State and Philippe Germain is the Head of Government.
Blessed with a quarter of the world’s nickel deposits, the years leading to the nickel boom of 1969-1972, saw the rise in European populations on the islands.
Of its over 270,000 persons, whiles 40% are Kanaks (indigenous people), 29% are of European origin, with 10% being of Algerian descent, and the rest are from other minority groups including Wallisians, Futunians, Tahitians, Indonesians and Vietnamese.
A Kanak man
Support for independence is split largely along ethnic lines with Kanaks supporting independence from France and those of European origin opposed to the idea.
As defined in the Nouméa Accord, the voting is restricted to long-term residents and in line of this, 173,000 people are eligible to participate in the upcoming referendum.
Should the referendum go in favor of the pro-independence group Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), they have proposed to
rename the new country as Kanaky Nouvelle-Caledonie (Kanak New Caledonia) and also adopt the FLNKS flag as the national flag, in place of the French flag.
According to the spokesperson for the FLNKS, Daniel Goa, they will ensure their sovereignty is recognized by applying for membership to the United Nations.
Daniel Goa – Spokesperson for FLNKS
However, it doesn’t look good for the pro-independence groups leading into Sunday’s referendum as opinion polls favor those against independence from France. It must be noted that this would not be the first independence referendum to be held in New Caledonia. An earlier referendum held on September 13, 1987, saw those against it polling about 98% of the votes, with the pro-independence group, FLNKS boycotting it.
All hope will not be lost should Sunday’s referendum not go in favor of the pro-independence groups as they will have another opportunity in 2020 and 2023, should a third of the local assembly agree to allow the votes to take place.