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Fifo Festival in Tahiti

ITW de Anne Pitoiset – Nickel, le trésor des Kanak

Nickel, trésor des Kanak: is New Caledonia’s political and economic independence underway? That is the question…

ANNE PITOISET au centre-2One word to describe this extensive documentary about the situation faced by the Kanaks regarding nickel: sacrifice, but a sacrifice taken on by the population who exploit the Koniambo massif to their advantage. Today, the country holds 51% of the shares in this factory, with a need to preserve the surrounding environment and notably the heart of Voh, a place that made Yann Arthus Bertrand famous. The wealth is no longer sold off cheap but valued. A challenge for New Caledonia, who would like to master this economic and cultural wealth and one day develop a real nation recognised in all its sovereignty. Anne Pitoiset, a FIFO regular and director of this documentary is interviewed as follows:

FIFO: New Caledonia was divided into 3. In 5 years one of the largest metallurgy plants was built, a true symbol of Kanak independence. Will they succeed in mastering these tools and with what means?

Anne Pitoiset: Indeed there are 3 provinces in Caledonia and after the dramatic events in Ouvéa the one in the north decided to take control and exploit the nickel. They laid down their arms for independence claiming that they would win it through the economy. Tjibaou said: ‘We do not want to be known as beggars in history.’ So will they succeed? They have the means for it as they have one of the most extensive massifs in the world. They are majority shareholders which is a first worldwide. The question highlighted in the film is: will the multinationals be stronger than them? Can the Kanaks compete in a world of globalisation?

FIFO: What are the environmental consequences for Koniambo Bay of extracting nickel?

Anne Pitoiset: Extracting nickel means scraping away at the mountain until the rock is reached so it is quite disastrous. Before the rocks were thrown directly in the rivers and that polluted everything. Now river basins are made to hold the water, extensive replantating is carried out. Many resources are available. It is important to know that mining maquis requires 25 to 30 years to grow back; there will not be much before that.

FIFO: A factory, a city and a country! Will tradition and customs be next to follow?

Anne Pitoiset: That is the core of the problem, as the greatest challenge for the Kanaks is to keep their traditions. I think that it will be difficult, as tradition is linked to the community and the wage system is individualist. Today we live in a performance culture and tradition will be profoundly transformed. In the past they exchanged yams, as well as the fabric manu, and today that requires CFP. Whilst the Kanaks work at the factory, they no longer have the time to grow and they have to buy things instead of bartering. The society has become monetized which is incompatible with the customs but some will manage without doubt...

FIFO: Why did the French not want to work with the Kanaks at the time? Instead a friend of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, André Dang chairman of SMSP today sourced foreign funding.

Anne Pitoiset: The French group present at the time made what we call a strategic mistake, as it didn’t believe that the Kanaks were capable of mastering these tools. It’s a consequence of the conflict of interest at the time with the Caldoches.

FIFO: Today New Caledonia has reached a milestone with XTRATA that is in fact starting to market their operation?

Anne Pitoiset: Yes 2014 is starting with a gain in power: they are starting to market the first tons of nickel until next year when they will be able to sell 60,000 tons. There are 3 factories now and in approximately 2 years, New Caledonia will be the world’s 2nd largest producer of nickel. What we can say is that the Kanaks did not stop at this factory with XTRATA. They have built another factory in South Korea. They joined forces with the world’s 2nd largest steelmaker retaining their 51 %. They serve as an example today to African as well as Pacific countries.

FIFO: This mining wealth is not inexhaustible, what will they follow it up with?

Anne Pitoiset: the operation life of these resources is estimated at one hundred years. The idea is to earn a lot of money to reinvest in tourism, farming…It’s a risky gamble.

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