Terrorism & Insurgency

New Caledonia’s probable rejection of independence likely to trigger violent protests by indigenous youths, particularly affecting mining

03 October 2018

A nickel mine near Voh on the French island of New Caledonia, 17 November 2014. Source: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Concerns among the majority of the public in New Caledonia regarding the territory's economic dependence on France are highly likely to offset any desire for full sovereignty, resulting in a vote to remain part of France.
  • There is a high risk of violence from disaffected indigenous (Kanak) youths in the aftermath of the vote, if, as indicated in opinion polls, the option of independence is rejected.
  • French-owned businesses, including key mining assets across the territory, are likely to be targeted as part of any protests.


On 4 November, France's overseas territory of New Caledonia is to hold an independence referendum.

The island territory of New Caledonia was annexed by France in 1853. An upsurge in violence between pro- and anti-independence factions in the mid-1980s led to the signing of first the Matignon Agreements in 1988, and then the Nouméa Accord in 1998. This latter agreement made provision for a vote on independence to be held within 20 years, hence the 4 November referendum.

Since 1999, Paris has ceded control of most areas of domestic policy to the local government in Nouméa, with the upcoming independence vote concerning the remaining sovereign powers retained by Paris, namely: justice, internal security, defence, monetary, and foreign relations. Given the territory's increased autonomy over the past 20 years, and with financial transfers from France remaining a key source of economic support to the archipelago - amounting to more than CFP152 billion (USD1.5 billion) in 2015, or some 17.3% of GDP, according to information in a January 2018 report by the UN - the indications are that the majority of voters favour the status quo. Opinion polling carried out over mid-2018 by the local branch of the KANTAR TNS market research organisation found that 69-75% of people planned to vote against independence, with only 20% in favour.

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