4 Aug 2016

Kanaks march in Noumea on call for rebalancing

2:30 pm on 4 August 2016

Unionists have taken to the streets of New Caledonia's capital to protest about the lack of jobs and positions for the territory's indigenous Kanaks.

Downtown Noumea (capital of New Caledonia)

Downtown Noumea. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

According to police, around 1,500 protesters, organised by the mainly Kanak USTKE union, marched through Noumea.

They were calling on the government to prioritise rebalancing of the distribution of economic returns in the territory between indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

"Rebalancing" efforts were supposed to be a hallmark of the Noumea Accord process, under which France has also been gradually handing over competencies to New Caledonia and providing for a self-determination referendum in the territory by 2018.

However, New Caledonia's economy has been struggling in the last few years, particularly with the slump in global commodity prices adversely affecting the territory's all-important nickel sector.

In this period of political and economic uncertainty for New Caledonia, its indigenous Melanesians are increasingly jobless and feel marginalised.

Following on from the march, an USTKE delegation met with New Caledonia's President Philippe Germain and members of his government.

The Kanaks told them that access to employment and training remains low for indigenous communities, with few Kanaks occupying positions of responsibility.

The President of New Caledonia's collegial government, Philippe Germain.

The President of New Caledonia's collegial government, Philippe Germain. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

They urged the government to expedite rebalancing efforts, saying results to date had been insufficient - the call was reportedly well received, with Mr Germain saying Kanak youth should not be stigmatised.

Furthermore, the marchers went to the Employers Federation, the Congress and the French High Commission to present their case for more balance.

The prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, highlighted the need to rebalance the development of New Caledonia when he visited the territory in April.

Promising continued French assistance to New Caledonia's economy, Mr Valls spoke about re-prioritising development in the territory's rural areas, where most Kanaks live.

The issue of the rebalancing is to be a focus of discussions at a conference at the University of New Caledonia on 19 August.

Local media reported the conference was an opportunity to take stock of progress on the Accord and to see what remained to be done in terms of employment and training.