Macron is hiding France’s settler-colonial secret

New Caledonia is a clear case of Macron’s policy of “en même temps” [at the same time] which ignores his complicity in the same thing he condemns elsewhere, writes Sania Mahyou [photo credit: Lucie Wimetz/TNA/Getty Images]

Kanaky, the indigenous name of New Caledonia — an island in the Pacific Ocean under French control since 1853 — is one of the seventeen remaining non-autonomous territories in the world. 

Initially established as a penal colony, the last outpost of French settler colonialism has experienced a demographic shift, with non-natives now outnumbering the Kanaks. The latest statistics indicate that the Kanaks now make up only around 41% of the total population. Three weeks ago, the Kanak people said enough.  

Massive unrest has broken out in New Caledonia after the French parliament adopted a bill aimed at increasing the number of non-native residents allowed to vote in the provincial elections: a clear threat to the political power of the indigenous people. 

In response, crowds of disgruntled Kanak protested the bill by blocking roads, burning key infrastructure, and shutting down shops they perceive as affiliated with the French state. But this isn’t the first time the Kanak people have revolted against the French. Rather, their revolutionary origins come from New Caledonia’s history of enslavement, colonial violence, and apartheid, with ties to Algeria and Palestine.

Much like Israel’s occupation of Palestine, France said that “the native is not the owner of the land” to justify its settler-colonial enterprise in New Caledonia, with tens of thousands of French convicts and dissident Algerian activists — who had participated in the 1871 al-Muqrani uprising — transported to Kanak land that had already been expropriated and exploited. 

Over the next few decades, France accelerated its colonial project, killing thousands of Kanak people in vicious counter-revolutions, deporting thousands more to neighbouring lands, passing laws of forced labour, and implementing an apartheid system between the non-native and native populations.

The uprisings in New Caledonia expose Macron’s colonial contradictions

Fast forward to today and it’s no surprise that the Kanaky people fear their voices are, once again, being muzzled. Independence movements in the latter half of the 20th century failed in delivering their promises, with Joseph Massad equating the 1988 Matignon Accords to the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The three independence referendums of 2018, 2020, and 2021 have been either manufactured by the French state or sabotaged and boycotted by the Kanak people who see the writing on the wall. Expectedly, with non-natives allowed to vote on the future of the island, the ‘No’ vote prevailed. Had the vote only included the regions inhabited by the indigenous Kanak people of New Caledonia, ‘Yes’ would have won overwhelmingly. 

“As in the case of Palestine, the historical context of the uprisings in Kanaky is completely wiped out by the official discourse”

The irony that Emmanuel Macron described colonisation as a “crime against humanity” during his first presidential campaign in 2017 has not been lost on the Kanak people. Now the French Prime Minister meets the unfolding uprisings with spiteful repression, backed by violence from self-organised white militias and supported by increasingly right-wing cheerleaders in parliament.

The mental gymnastics that Macron must have to do given his support for Karim Khan and the ICC’s arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant baffles the mind. 

To many French citizens, New Caledonia is a clear case of Macron’s policy of “en même temps” [at the same time] which ignores his complicity in the same thing he condemns elsewhere. Whilst he expediently condemns Israel’s assault on Gaza, Macron sends 3000 French soldiers to New Caledonia to put down the “unprecedented uprising movement” in Noumea, the capital of the archipelago and the main theatre of revolution.

A state of emergency has been imposed and eight people have been killed, including three young Kanak natives shot by members of white militias who claimed that they were “defending themselves against rioters”. On June 8, another indigenous man died from his wounds after being shot by a French policeman.  

Kanak natives thus rightfully presume that the passing of a new bill allowing a further enlargement of the voting bodies would annihilate any further possibility of an end to the colonisation of their island.

Back in France, the connections between Palestinians and Kanak self-determination are becoming clearer, with “From Noumea [the capital of New Caledonia] to Gaza, resistance” being a rallying cry of joint protests organised in Paris on June 3.

Macron’s heavy crackdown is telling of the right-wing turn taken by Macron’s government since coming to power in 2017, and the repression against Kanak activists similar to the ones carried against pro-Palestinian activists in France. Macron had even decided to ban pro-Palestinian protests until the Supreme Court ruled the decision illegal.

Nevertheless, in the past few months, public figures, among them French-Palestinian lawyer Rima Hassan and journalist Sihame Assbague have been summoned by police for a “terrorism apology” after expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and calling for an end to Israeli occupation.

As in Palestine, the historical context of the uprisings in Kanaky is completely wiped out by the official discourse, and many French media fail to contextualise the popular revolts in the 170 years of colonisation imposed on the Kanaks.

Emmanuel Macron, who publicly claims to push “dialogue” in New Caledonia and a “ceasefire” in Gaza, is similarly operating massive infringes on public freedoms, while not doing enough to prevent violence from being perpetrated on French soil against anti-colonial activists.

Even though Macron recently announced that the reform would be put on hold for a few weeks, it is very likely that the bill will not be abandoned, as he stated that “he would never take a decision of suspension under pressure of violence”.

Members of the government have also emphasised potential roles of outside powers, such as Azerbaijan, in the current uprisings, in what could also be an attempt to undermine the initial causes of the indigenous movement, among them profound socio-economic inequalities inflicted upon the native population.

As the French government tries its best to crush the rebellion, Macron’s decisions serve as a vivid reminder that the colonial empire of France is well and alive, with French Polynesia, another island in the Pacific, still being considered colonised under international law.

Sania Mahyou is a Belgian-Moroccan freelance journalist and a student at Sciences Po Paris. She writes about political struggles, culture and minority rights in the MENA region.

Follow her on Twitter: @MahyouSania

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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