Kanaks hesitant to sever French connection

It is a weekly ritual in the heart of New Caledonia’s capital Noumea.


Young indigenous Kanaks release their frustrations through music and dance on the main square, Place des Cocotiers.

Andre Fatoumaou is a singer and beatboxer.

As a French citizen, he says he feels less than equal.

“Yes, yes, there’s a two-tiered system.”

It is a tension lying just below the surface in New Caledonia, with security fears over so-called “delinquents,” the term used to describe young, socially disaffected Kanaks.

An independence referendum due in this French territory next year came with a pledge from France 30 years ago to level out the inequalities resulting from 160 years of colonisation.

But young Kanaks still struggle to find jobs, and Andre Fatoumaou says, when they do, it is often in low-skilled occupations.

“It’s about appearance – ‘Oh, you’re a Kanak, we don’t want you’ – because it’s always the cliches.”

The French government has invested heavily in education, but the French MP for New Caledonia, Phillippe Gomes, admits Kanaks’ results are well below national standards.

In France, the high school completion rate in 2016 was 88.5 per cent.

Kanaks achieved about 50 per cent, up from 15 per cent 30 years ago.

Mr Gomes says it cannot be a quick process.

“A journey has been achieved, but you can’t complete a journey like this in only one generation.”

While many young Kanaks have fallen through the cracks in the system, there have been improvements for others.

Charles Washetine, spokesman for the Kanak Liberation Party, one of the main independence groups, makes that clear.

“We don’t have to stigmatise all the young Kanaks, because there are others that have achieved something with their lives.”

French migrants and long-term settlers are in the majority on this Pacific island, living a European lifestyle.

Kanaks, who make up about 40 per cent of the population, were once confined to reserves.

Mr Gomes, the French MP, says, today, they are over-represented in the prison population.

“Our country has failed on this subject, and it’s true that, today, we are now paying the price for it.”

Suspicions remain high on both sides.

And Andre Fatoumaou, the beatboxer, has a warning.

“Everyone has to be in the same boat, or, otherwise, we won’t get independence.”

“… this morning … wah … That’s right. Okay … My name is Andre … Goodbye, everybody.”