(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)
|Introduction||Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864. Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s ended in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which over a period of 15 to 20 years will transfer an increasing amount of governing responsibility from France to New Caledonia. The agreement also commits France to conduct as many as three referenda between 2013 and 2018, to decide whether New Caledonia should assume full sovereignty and independence.|
|History||The western Pacific was first populated about 50,000 years ago. The Austronesians moved into the area later. The diverse group of people that settled over the Melanesian archipelagos are known as the Lapita. They arrived in the archipelago now commonly known as New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands around 1500 BC. The Lapita were highly skilled navigators and agriculturists with influence over a large area of the Pacific.
From about the 11th century Polynesians also arrived and mixed with the populations of the archipelago.
Europeans first sighted New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands in the late 18th century. The British explorer James Cook sighted Grande Terre in 1774 and named it New Caledonia, Caledonia being the Latin name for Scotland. During the same voyage he also named the islands to the north of New Caledonia the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), after the islands north of Scotland.
Whalers operated off New Caledonia during the 19th century. Sandalwood traders were welcome but as supplies diminished, the traders became abusive. The Europeans brought new diseases such as smallpox, measles, dysentery, influenza, syphilis and leprosy. Many people died as a result of these diseases. Tensions developed into hostilities and in 1849 the crew of the Cutter were killed and eaten by the Pouma clan.
As trade in sandalwood declined it was replaced by a new form of trade, Blackbirding. Blackbirding was a euphemism for enslaving people from New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to work in sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Queensland. The trade ceased at the start of the 20th century. The victims of this trade were called Kanakas, a label later shortened to Kanak and adopted by the indigenous population after French annexation.
The island was made a French possession in late 1853 in an attempt by Napoleon III to rival the British colonies in Australia and New Zealand. Following the example set by the British in nearby Australia, between 1864 and 1922 France sent a total of 22,000 convicted felons to penal colonies along the south-west coast of the island; this number includes regular criminals as well as political prisoners such as Parisian socialists and Kabyle nationalists. Towards the end of the penal colony era, free European settlers (including former convicts) and Asian contract workers by far out-numbered the population of forced workers. The indigenous Kanak populations declined drastically in that same period due to introduced diseases and an apartheid-like system called Code de l’Indigénat which imposed severe restrictions on their livelihood, freedom of movement and land ownership.
During World War II, US and Allies forces built a major position in New Caledonia to combat the advance of Japan in South-East Asia and toward Australia. Noumea served as a headquarters for the United States military in the Pacific. The proximity of the territory with the South Pacific operations permitted also quick repairs in Noumea of damaged US ships. The American 23rd Infantry Division is still unofficially named Americal, the name being a contraction of “America” and “New Caledonia”.
The U.S. military headquarters – a pentagonal complex – was, after the war, taken over as the base for a new regional intergovernmental development organisation: the South Pacific Commission, later known as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
New Caledonia has been on a United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1986. Agitation by the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) for independence began in 1985. The FLNKS (led by the late Jean-Marie Tjibaou, assassinated in 1989) advocated the creation of an independent state of ‘Kanaky’. The troubles culminated in 1988 with a bloody hostage taking in Ouvéa. The unrest led to agreement on increased autonomy in the Matignon Accords of 1988 and the Nouméa Accord of 1998. This Accord describes the devolution process as “irreversible” and also provides for a local Caledonian citizenship, separate official symbols of Caledonian identity (such as a “national” flag), as well as mandating a referendum on the contentious issue of independence from the French Republic sometime after 2014.
|Geography||Location: Oceania, islands in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia
Geographic coordinates: 21 30 S, 165 30 E
Map references: Oceania
Area: total: 19,060 sq km
land: 18,575 sq km
water: 485 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than New Jersey
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 2,254 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical; modified by southeast trade winds; hot, humid
Terrain: coastal plains with interior mountains
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Panie 1,628 m
Natural resources: nickel, chrome, iron, cobalt, manganese, silver, gold, lead, copper
Land use: arable land: 0.32%
permanent crops: 0.22%
other: 99.46% (2005)
Irrigated land: 100 sq km (2003)
Natural hazards: cyclones, most frequent from November to March
Environment – current issues: erosion caused by mining exploitation and forest fires
Geography – note: consists of the main island of New Caledonia (one of the largest in the Pacific Ocean), the archipelago of Iles Loyaute, and numerous small, sparsely populated islands and atolls
|Politics||The unique status of New Caledonia is in between that of an independent country and a normal Overseas department of France.
On the one hand, both a Territorial Congress (Congress of New Caledonia) and government have been established, and are increasingly empowered via the gradual implementation of a devolution of powers from France in favour of New Caledonia, pursuant to the 1998 Nouméa Accord. Key areas (e.g. taxation, labour law, health and hygiene, foreign trade, and others) are already in the hands of the Territorial Congress and government. Further authority will be given to the Territorial Congress in the near future. Ultimately, the French Republic should only remain in charge of foreign affairs, justice, defense, public order, and treasury. An additional enhancement to New Caledonian autonomy has come in the form of recently-introduced territorial “citizenship”: Only New Caledonian “citizens” have the right to vote in local elections. The introduction of this right has been criticised, because it creates a second-class status for French citizens living in New Caledonia who do not possess New Caledonian “citizenship” (because they settled in the territory recently). Further signs of increased autonomy for the territory, include New Caledonia’s right to engage in international cooperation with independent countries of the Pacific Ocean region, the continued use of a local currency (the French Pacific Franc, or CFP) rather than the Euro, as well as the authority of the Territorial Congress to pass statutes overriding French law in a certain number of areas.
On the other hand, New Caledonia remains a part of the French Republic. The inhabitants of New Caledonia are French citizens and carry French passports. They take part in the legislative and presidential French elections, sending two representatives to the French National Assembly and one senator to the French Senate. At the 2007 French presidential election the voter turnout in New Caledonia was 68.14%. The representative of the French central state in New Caledonia is the High Commissioner of the Republic (Haut-Commissaire de la République, locally known as “haussaire”), who is the head of civil services, and who sits as an integral part of the territorial government.
The Nouméa Accord provides a mechanism for the determination of the ultimate status and degree of New Caledonian territorial autonomy: Pursuant to the Accord, the Territorial Congress will have the right to call for a referendum on independence, at any time of its choosing after 2014.
The current president of the government elected by the territorial Congress is Harold Martin, from the loyalist (i.e. anti-independence) “Future Together” party (l’Avenir Ensemble), which crushed the long-time ruling RPCR (Rally for Caledonia in the Republic) in May 2004. “Future Together” is a party of mostly White and Polynesian New Caledonians opposed to independence, but rebelling against the hegemonistic and (allegedly) corrupt anti-independence RPCR, led by the now-discredited Jacques Lafleur. Their toppling of the RPCR (that was until then seen as the only voice of New Caledonian Whites) was a surprise to many, and a sign that New Caledonian society is undergoing changes. “Future Together,” as the name implies, is opposed to a racial-oriented vision of New Caledonian political life, one based purely on the political primacy of either the Melanesian native inhabitants or the descendants of European settlers. Rather, it is in favour of a multicultural New Caledonia, of governing principles that better reflect the reality of the existence of large populations of Polynesians, Indonesians, Chinese, and other immigrant communities that make up the territory’s population. Some members of “Future Together” are even in favour of independence, though not necessarily on the same basis as the Melanesian independence parties.
|People||Population: 224,824 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 27.3% (male 31,376/female 30,064)
15-64 years: 65.6% (male 74,064/female 73,369)
65 years and over: 7.1% (male 7,377/female 8,574) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 28.4 years
male: 28 years
female: 28.8 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.175% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 17.39 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 5.64 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA
note: there has been steady emigration from Wallis and Futuna to New Caledonia (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.86 male(s)/female
total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 7.19 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 7.85 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 6.5 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 74.75 years
male: 71.76 years
female: 77.88 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 2.21 children born/woman (2008 est.)